Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Thursday, February 3, 2000


"I think the citizens of the commonwealth are wise enough to look at the figures and understand that a sizable tax reduction at this time ... just doesn't add up."

House Transportation Committee Chairman
Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree)

"It's hard for us to understand why they weren't prepared for (cost increases) when anybody could have told them it would cost at least $12 billion. They have chosen not to prepare for the consequences of their own lies. That has nothing to do with our income taxes."

Barbara Anderson
Executive Director, CLT

Quotes from State House News Service

The "temporary" income tax rollback campaign is in full swing -- a bit early, but the opposition isn't going to leave anything to chance, or to the last minute. You can depend on "unexpected" expenses and funding crises to arise virtually every day until the November election.

But even as "the sky is falling" and we're told the state "can't afford" a tax cut, the tax-and-spenders are adding new programs to their wish-list at the expense of beleaguered taxpayers.

Mass211, a proposed new statewide social service referral program, is estimated to cost an additional $2 million every year, after "start-up costs."

Remember back in 1987 -- when we were promised that the Big Dig would cost only $2.5 billion and not a cent more?

We had 911 service but that wasn't gold-plated enough for the Bay State; we had to have "enhanced" E-911. Now they want 211 service ... what comes next, 311, 511, 611, 711 service ... ? As long as our money's in their hands, the numbers are infinite, as is their wish-list.

The misnamed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (of corporate special interests) today pronounced that even the acceleration of MassPike toll increases is meaningless as it would only provide a once-time infusion of $60 million toward the latest Big Dig cost overrun, -- though I didn't hear the vaunted MTF argue against accelerating the increases.

Prepare for the daily "the sky is falling!" pronouncements from high on Bacon Hill as the Gimme Lobby gears up for a fight to the death ... of their eleven-year old "temporary" tax increase. They won't fade gently into the night while all our money is still on the table, within their reach!

The campaign for the hearts and minds of taxpaying voters is in full swing.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

PS. Barbara is scheduled to be a guest at 7:00 this evening on New England Cable News' "NewsNight with Margie Reedy" to discuss the Big Dig and its funding.

State House News Service
Thursday, February 3, 2000

Big Dig Cost Hike Renewing Lawmakers' Opposition
to Major Tax Cuts

By Trevor Hughes

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 2, 2000 ... Lawmakers skeptical of Gov. Paul Cellucci's $1.4 billion income tax cut and a plan to provide $600 million in tax breaks to toll payers say a newly announced $1.4 billion hike in the Big Dig's price tag makes tax cuts and toll credits even more unaffordable.

"What was already a reckless proposal really ought to be rethought," Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea) told a group of real estate developers this morning. "The Free the Pike referendum is absolutely irresponsible."

Added House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree): "I think the citizens of the commonwealth are wise enough to look at the figures and understand that a sizable tax reduction at this time ... just doesn't add up."

And state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien said: "What I think we need to do is make sure we take care of our existing obligations ... before we look to any new, broad-based tax cuts."

For years, lawmakers and Wall Street bond rating agencies have said the state lacks a comprehensive plan to pay for the Big Dig, which is being built with federal, state and local tax dollars, and toll revenues. Today, O'Brien and Sullivan reiterated those calls, and said they look forward to hearing an answer in the next week from Turnpike Authority Chairman James Kerasiotes, who is managing the Big Dig.

Cellucci officials say Kerasiotes has project costs under control. They say cost increases will be paid for by the Turnpike, and that tax cut opponents are simply using new information t  support old arguments. Toll-rebate backers said the overrun will give impetus to their plan because drivers are sick of being used as "an unlimited credit card" since the federal government began cutting back on highway funds for Massachusetts. Both cuts are expected to go before voters in November.

Big Dig officials say Boston-area tolls may have to double next year, a year ahead of schedule, to keep funds flowing to the project while it enters its most intensive construction phase. Begu  in the early 1980s, and originally estimated to cost about $3 billion, the Big Dig is burying I-93 through the heart of Boston. Many lawmakers believe the project is consuming money that would otherwise be spent on projects in their neighborhoods.

"Nobody has ever said that the Big Dig was going to be a set price. This isn't like going in and buying a television set," said Cellucci spokesman John Birtwell said. "It's been known for some time that's there been a need for some cost adjustments, probably upward. This should have no effect on the bottom line of the state budget. The Turnpike Authority has indicated they are able to pay for the Big Dig."

During his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Cellucci touted the advantages of better traffic flows and repeatedly said the Big Dig would be completed in 2004 "on time and on budget." The official project price tag was set at $10.8 billion for several years -- and was still listed at that level on its web site this morning. And as recently as December, Big Dig officials told Wall Street bond rating agencies that "project costs remain stable" at $10.8 billion.

The price tag is going up after a preliminary internal review found higher construction costs due to unexpected snags in burying the heavily traveled road through the middle of a busy city  Sullivan said the Legislature has about a year to solve the cost crunch. He made his position clear: Big Dig managers, not the taxpayers or toll payers, are responsible for making up the cost increase.

"I think it's too simplistic at this time to say that we can have no form of tax reduction because we have to pay for the cost of the Central Artery. That's rewarding cost overruns and shifting the responsibility onto the Commonwealth," Sullivan said. "I want a series of steps offered to the Legislature. I'm not looking for a simple response.

"We are heavily invested in this project. There's no U-turn on the Central Artery. But to reward the Central Artery by just ... paying off the supposed cost overruns is not the route we ought to take, either," Sullivan added. "Will we assist? Yes. But we're not going to pay the entire cost. We need the Turnpike to work with the legislature in developing a plan."

Added House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth): "We've been concerned for some time that there hasn't been identified enough permanent financing for not only the Central Artery, but all the other projects that are needed. We'll be anxious to see how they manage this. It's the administration's responsibility to create a funding strategy that works."

Sullivan said options range from raising tolls sooner than expected, to leasing or selling unused 'Pike-owned land, and forcing Big Dig contractors to cut their own costs. And Haley has long favored reinstating driver registration fees to help pay for the project.

Long-time anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson took the fretting with a grain of salt. "It's hard for us to understand why they weren't prepared for (cost increases) when anybody could have told them it would cost at least $12 billion," she said. "They have chosen not to prepare for the consequences of their own lies. That has nothing to do with our income taxes."

The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 3, 2000
A Boston Herald Editorial

Users should pay new Big Dig costs

Harvard Pilgrim's cost discovery syndrome must be catching. The Big Dig has found a bundle of unexpected costs too.

The Central Artery Project says it'll cost $1.4 billion more than expected to finish, making the total not $10.8 billion but $12.2 billion.

Opponents of the income tax rate cut backed by Gov. Paul Cellucci no doubt will seize on the new estimate as an argument to keep what's left of the "temporary" rate increase (and that's four-fifths of it) enacted in 1989.

Failure to enact the rate cut has been, and will continue to be, an act of bad faith by the Legislature. The assertion of public control over our ever-grasping lawmakers is more importan  than ease of financing the Big Dig. If it weren't the Big Dig, it would be something else thrown up in argument to keep the money on Bacon Hill.

Jim Kerasiotes, Massachusetts Turnpike and Big Dig czar, says the planned increases in harbor tunnel, Pike Extension and Tobin Bridge tolls may have to be brought forward to 2001 from 2002. So be it.

If cash needs in the next fiscal year are going to be so crushing, why not bring forward the toll increases all the way to July 1 this year? Further increases may be necessary later; the public should be prepared for them as well.

It is much to be preferred, from the point of view of both fairness and economic efficiency, that motorists in a position to use it pay for extra costs of the Big Dig, not taxpayers from the Cape to the Berkshires and committed users of public transportation.

State House News Service
Tuesday, February 1, 2000

Tax Cut Proposals Threaten Likelihood of
New Mass211 Service

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 1, 2000 ... Sen. Stanley Rosenberg today warned advocates that the specter of a tax cut trio on the November ballot could "temper" lawmakers' enthusiasm for creating a new statewide social service referral program.

The Massachusetts 211 Task Force hosted a forum at the State House to pitch its proposal for a new statewide service referral system. As envisioned, people could dial "211" to get information about a variety of state programs and services.

Rosenberg, who attended the forum and then was asked to comment, said the proposal "obviously makes some sense." But he said the "bad news" is that three tax cuts worth nearly $2 billion combined appear destined for the ballot. The proposals reduce the income tax and provide tax deductions for turnpike tolls and charitable contributions.

"If the major ballot question goes through, rolling back the income tax ... there's going to be a dramatic impact on our revenues," said Rosenberg (D-Amherst). "We're looking at a very challenging budget process this year, so, uh, good luck and keep in touch."

Advocates estimate the system would cost about $2 million per year, not including start-up costs. The individual United Way organizations in the state, which operate 15 comprehensive referral services, currently spend between $500,000 and $750,000 per year. Under 211, Unite  Way would continue spending that amount, then ask the state to kick in $1.5 million per year.

The Mass211 system is modeled on similar systems already in place in Georgia and Connecticut, and in the planning stages in about 40 other states. Like 911 for emergency services, advocates say 211 serves as the "gateway" to social services.

Sandra Courtney, an information and resource specialist with Webster-based Tri-Valley Elder Services Inc., said the average person is bewildered by the vastness of state government, and doesn't know what services are available or where to call to find them.

"Anyone who's answered the phones for an informal referral service knows that at least three or four times a week, the response to 'Can I help you?' is 'God, I hope so -- I've already called four, five, six other places before I got you,'" Courtney said. "A lot of people don't make it that far. They give up before they find us."

Under the 211 proposal, the 15 comprehensive referral services would be consolidated into six or eight regional "hubs." Jean Strock, vice president of community services for the United Way of Central Massachusetts, said the 15 centers receive over 100,000 calls per year.

"Our vision for 211 is that there be an easy, three-digit number for people to access the services they need," said Strock, who is also the co-chairman of the 211 task force.

Trained specialists -- who could help identify all the services people need, not just the initial request -- would staff the 24-hour hubs. Massachusetts Association of Information and Referra  Services President Lucretia Hudzinski said a woman may call looking for a domestic violence shelter, but, after questioning, the caller may realize she also needs and may qualify for child care and health insurance.

"We know how to ask the pertinent questions," Hudzinski said. "Sometimes it's the second question we ask that gets at what they really need."

Representatives of some state agencies raised questions about how the system would work. Glenn Daly, director of the Youth Development Collaboration Project at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said he was concerned about handling emergency situations.

"We'd be concerned that somebody calling in to report child abuse, this is another level they'd have to go through to get to where they make a report," Daly said. Supporters said that i  "extreme cases," the 211 system would be able to patch calls directly through to 911.

Christopher Coyle, administrative supervisor for client services at the state Office on Disability, asked what kind of data would be collected on callers, and how privacy would be protected.

Mass211 Executive Coordinator David Voegele said the proposal includes an information referral "bill of rights" that contains a clause stipulating "confidential and anonymous services." In most cases, 211 operators would gather the person's age, town of residence and income level, and only ask for more information if "we need to get someone to their door," Voegele said.

United Way of Tri-County President Paul Mina, who also serves as the president of the Council of United Ways, described 211 as a "no-brainer," but said supporters may have to revise the proposal to address lawmakers' budget concerns.

"There are things you wish for, hope for and pray for, and then there are things that are reality," Mina said. "The reality of the situation is we're probably going to have to do some tweaking to make this acceptable to the legislative body."

Despite a year of planning, legislation creating Mass211 has not yet been filed. Task force members are scheduled to appear tomorrow at 10 am before the Department of Telecommunications and Energy to request that the 211 code be officially designated for the proposal. Supporters said today that they expect a decision from DTE in about two months.

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