by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
October 25, 2009
From his website at:
TIME AND AGAIN,
Citizens for Limited Taxation has come to the
rescue of Massachusetts taxpayers. Will taxpayers
come to the rescue of CLT?
CLT's happy warrior:
Executive Director Barbara Anderson
For 35 years, CLT has been an
unwavering foe of high taxes and government
arrogance, two commodities for which Massachusetts
is well-known. It was created in 1974 to fight a
proposal for steeply graduated income-tax rates,
a proposal it defeated in the 1976 election.
When the grad-tax
returned to the state ballot in 1994, CLT led
the fight to
defeat it once again.
In 1980, CLT stunned the
Massachusetts political establishment with its
successful crusade to slash property and auto-excise
taxes, which were then among the highest in America.
CLT's weapon was
Proposition 2½, a ballot question vehemently
denounced by the state's liberal elite, including
the League of Women Voters, the Massachusetts League
of Cities and Towns, and the Massachusetts Teachers
Association. In an editorial, the Boston Globe
blasted the measure's "meat-ax approach" and
condemned its proponents as "fanatical critics of
municipal government" who were oblivious to the
devastation they would cause.
But the voters followed CLT, and
approved Proposition 2½ by a wide margin. Far from
wreaking havoc across the commonwealth, the law
became "the most powerful engine of change in recent
Massachusetts political history,"
as even the Globe would later acknowledge -- the
single greatest factor in "the state's amazing
In 1996, the nonpartisan
civic-affairs journal CommonWealth
described Proposition 2½ as "the most sweeping
public policy reform in recent Massachusetts history
-- and one that did not come about from the efforts
of 'progressive' reformers." Nevertheless, it
pointed out, CLT accomplished much that even
"good-government liberals might well applaud,"
including a decreased reliance on regressive
property taxes, a more sensible real-estate
assessment system, better management of municipal
budgets, and -- since Prop 2½ allows local
override the statutory levy limit with voter
approval -- more democratic decision-making, at
least when it comes to property taxes.
CLT is almost preposterously
tiny, and it has always operated on a shoestring.
Its four paid staffers make far less than many of
their opponents -- the legislators, lobbyists, and
union officials whose appetite for higher taxes and
more government spending never seems to diminish.
Barbara Anderson, the incorruptible happy warrior
who became CLT's executive director in 1980, earns
just $10 an hour.
But even a shoestring budget
needs to pay for shoestring, and CLT is no longer
sure it can do so. Between the recession and the
exodus of fed-up citizens from Massachusetts,
CLT's membership has shrunk dramatically, from
10,000 in the mid-1990s to only around 3,000 today.
CLT has also lost some of its most generous donors
-- among them Richard Egan, the founder of EMC
Corp., who died in August. As a result,
CLT announced last week, "we are hurting
financially more than ever before." The group's
annual fundraising brunch on Nov. 15 may be its last
hurrah: If turnout is low, says co-director Chip
Ford, CLT will shut down on Nov. 16.
Property taxes in
Massachusetts aren't cheap -- but they are
far lower than they would have been without
No organization lasts forever,
and at 35 CLT has already outlived many advocacy
groups. No doubt diehard welfare-statists and
big-government lefties would be happy to attend
CLT's funeral. No doubt many Massachusetts residents
have more pressing personal concerns.
But with state government once
more a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Massachusetts
with the state's sales tax rate now up to 6.25
percent, and with Beacon Hill hungrily seeking
more revenue, the prospect of CLT's demise should be
setting off alarms.
Were it not for CLT,
Massachusetts taxpayers and businesses would be
forking over far
more of their wealth to the tax man than they
do. In addition to blocking graduated tax rates and
reining in property taxes, CLT forced the repeal in
1986 of an income surtax enacted under Governor
Michael Dukakis and led a successful ballot campaign
in 2000 to roll back state income taxes. Though it
hasn't won every battle, it has never shied from the
"Without the benefit of paid
signature-gatherers or the large advertising budgets
deployed against them by the public-employee unions
who fought their every move," wrote Jon Keller in
The Bluest State, his acclaimed 2007 study
of Massachusetts politics, "Barbara Anderson and CLT
… established themselves as the state's most
effective check on runaway taxation, far more
formidable than the toothless handful of Republicans
in the legislature."
With hard work and good humor,
Citizens for Limited Taxation has made
Massachusetts a much better place than it would
otherwise be. It has survived a lot in the past 35
years, but it cannot survive indifference. If you're
free on Nov. 15, you might want to
have brunch with Barbara Anderson.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist
for The Boston Globe.)