Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Sunday, January 16, 2000


"Keeping up with the governor's fund-raising ability may be the most difficult part, [TEAM's James St. George] said.

"We're going to do everything we can to stay as even as it gets."

Major fight looms over income tax rollback
By Nancy C. Rodriguez
Eagle-Tribune Writer

Boy, am I glad I'm not a teacher, a union member of the rapacious Massachusetts Teachers Association and an indirect donor to its subsidiary, Tax Everything And More (TEAM).

If by chance you are a teacher, then grab your wallet with both hands! They're coming to lighten it for you again, to use your money in an attempt to deprive you of your promised tax rollback!

After all, money is no object for them: they'll just spend your dues on their selfish campaign expenses then come back for more when they need it. The Gimme Lobby believes you have no right to anything you earn anyway: They know better than you how to spend what you earn.

Maybe as a teacher you don't mind being abused and are happy to contribute, voluntarily or otherwise, to your own loss, but watch out.

Fairly or not, teachers already are under a heavy blanket of public dissatisfaction and criticism.

If you're that willing to allow yourself and your earnings to be used in a campaign against your neighbors, it'll be hard to argue that you should be paid more from their pockets.

It seems unlikely that those overburdened neighbors, your employers, would support your claim if you help deprive them of theirs.

Remember, the tax rollback will likely put more in your pocket every year than any increase you can hope to derive from union-negotiated salary contracts.

If I were among your ranks, I'd simply eliminate the greedy middleman and vote for my own pay raise, like your friends and neighbors will.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune
Sunday, January 16, 2000

Major fight looms over income tax rollback
By Nancy C. Rodriguez
Eagle-Tribune Writer

It could be one of the nastiest political battles ever waged in Massachusetts, all of it over whether taxpayers should get an extra buck or two a day.

The fight is between those who want to roll back the state's income tax to 5 percent, down from its current 5.85 percent, and those who think state lawmakers' plans to drop it to 5.75 percent are enough. The final showdown will be the Nov. 7 election, when citizens will cast their votes on a ballot question.

Dollarwise, it would mean about $320 extra a year for wage earners who make $50,000. New Hampshire residents who work in the Bay State would also get the same tax cut.

Politically, it is already shaping up as a vicious fight that will only get meaner as November approaches. But some observers say it could also prove to be a watershed moment in the political career of Gov. A. Paul Cellucci, who has set the tax fight as his priority for the year.

Opponents, such as the liberal labor-backed Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts, dismiss it as an ill-advised cut that will translate into little more than "a pizza a week" to taxpayers at a $1.4 billion expense to schools, the poor and the elderly.

Meanwhile, the tax break's main champion, the conservative group Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, uses words like "greedy", "buffoon", and "transparent hypocrite" to describe TEAM.

Observers say the fight will test Gov. Cellucci's ability to get his way in spite of a recalcitrant Legislature, which thwarted his attempt's last year to reduce education spending and has continually portrayed him as an ineffectual leader.

"The governor is putting himself on the line with this one," said state Rep. Brian S. Dempsey, D-Haverhill, who was one of only five House members to vote for a roll back last year. "I think there is a danger in that, given the record of the vote which happened in the House and Senate last year on the income tax issue. This will be a test of his ability to communicate to the electorate."

Paul A. Melkonian, chairman of the Roll Back Committee for the Republican State Committee, stops short of calling the issue an all-or-nothing for the governor.

"Nobody wants a defeat. It's a very important initiative to him," Mr. Melkonian said. "He threw the gauntlet down, and it's down."

Being heard above the clamor of an anticipated 10 other ballot questions will take some effort. Campaigns to ban dog track racing and to allow Internet companies access to cable television lines are expected to be pretty heated, with both securing financial backing from private and non-profit groups.

With Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, D-Chelsea, vowing to fight the proposal, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, D-Boston, remaining doubtful about lowering the rate without doing the same to spending, it is likely the issue is headed for the Nov. 7 referendum.

The Legislature has until the first Wednesday in May to pass the petition into law. If it doesn't, supporters need to collect an additional 9,517 signatures to have the question put on the ballot in November.

But while other ballot propaganda mills are months away from beginning their grinding, Gov. Cellucci and the State Republican Committee have been off and running for months, pushing an initiative they need to win.

Early on they partnered with CLT, giving a needed boost to an organization that almost folded after failing to get the required signatures two years ago to move the petition forward. They dedicated web sites to the initiative, and a few months back Gov. Cellucci came up with a $100,000 retainer to hire a professional signature gathering company from Nevada to insure his item got the needed 57,100 signatures by Dec. 31 to make it before the Legislature. The move brought criticism from TEAM, who claimed it tainted the citizen petition process.

How much the Republicans have spent so far to get their way won't be know until Roll Back Committee files financial disclosure forms this month with the secretary of state.

Locally, other Republicans also have been brought in to push the question, including Essex County Sheriff Frank G. Cousins, and Republican fund-raiser and State Committeewoman Dorothy P. Early of Haverhill, who organized the governor's inaugural. State Rep. Kevin L. Finnegan, R-Newburyport, also has been active in the campaign.

TEAM stymied CLT's petition two years ago by questioning the validity of signatures. For their part, TEAM charged supporters with putting children at risk by taking away money that could be spent on fixing schools.

TEAM Executive Director James R. St. George agrees the fight could get nastier, if for no other reason than the fact the governor has made it so important.

"It's essentially his only agenda item," Mr. St. George said. "He's had a pretty bad first year, and he is trying to get off the mat.

"This is all he has going," Mr. St. George added. "The problem is the initiative he picked on here is one the public doesn't really want. The question is who is going to be successful at defining the message. If the message is: 'Give us a tax cut,' they're going to win. If people hear that a tax cut has implications, that there is a connection between taxes you pay and the quality of life, we're going to win."

Keeping up with the governor's fund-raising ability may be the most difficult part, he said.

"We're going to do everything we can to stay as even as it gets," Mr. St. George said.

Gov. Cellucci argues the rate reduction will help create between 20,000 and 50,000 jobs because it will decrease the burden in small businesses. At the same time, it will decrease labo  costs, and make the state more attractive to businesses looking to locate here.

With the state flush with money -- $3.2 billion in trust fund and rainy day accounts -- the state can afford to keep its promise and pay for programs, supporters say. They point to a national study done recently by the Center for Budget and Policy, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., which found Massachusetts was one of eight states that could weather a recession.

Opponents say it would hurt state spending making it impossible to fix schools and bridges in good economic times. They also point to $1.3 billion in taxes slashed over the past two years.

While a supporter, Rep. Dempsey said he does see momentum being the biggest problem for the governor. There is not an urgency among voters on the issue, he said.

"People aren't angry because of the economy and that hurts their cause at this time," he said. "I think it will be a battle. I honestly don't think it is the top third or fourth priority in the electorate's mind. I hear more about education and health care."

Rep. Dempsey thinks the state can do both -- keep its promise to reduce the rate and also deal with education and public safety.

"I think there is a danger in having too much money in government. Now we run into a situation where we can't pass a budget and new things are being created all the time," he said. "We're going to have programs that have been funded that people are going to expect us to continue to fund."

Meanwhile, Mr. St. George said his group is gearing up for its own campaign. It is rebuilding the grassroots coalition from two years ago, including community, housing and religious organizations and business people.

"It's going to be a big campaign," Mr. St. George said. "That would be the technical description."

The key will be to fill in the gap, and let people realize it's not just a tax cut, he said.

"It's going to cost you. You save in taxes, but when it comes to schools and public safety you're going to pay," he said.

Barbara Anderson, CLT's executive director, said the argument for her, with or without the political angst of the governor, has always been the same.

"The big argument for us, and I really think the key issue here, is they promised this would be temporary, just for the life of those bonds when they voted it in 1989," Ms. Anderson said. "I think at this particular point of time, you have to hold your politicians to some standard because there is no limit to how low they will go. They said it was temporary. They should keep their word. The world is ready for a revolution in standards."

Ms. Anderson calls opponent's claims that the money will be used for bridges and schools a sham.

"They have to keep that reason to justify raising taxes. They deliberately neglect improvements on things," she said. "The fact is the state is funding everything it wants to and has enough to fund more if it wants to. It's not that the state needs the money.

"But I still think the bottom line is they promised it would be done," she added. "If they are not forced to do it they will lie to us and break promises again and next time it will be a lot more serious than a pizza a week."

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