Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Tuesday, February 8, 2000


Senate leaders today will vote on legislation to provide $10 million in fuel assistance to 20,000 to 25,000 households.

"Heating one's home should not be a concern for any resident of our state, especially in a time of budget surpluses," said Senate Ways and Means Chairman Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford).

The Boston Herald
Feb. 8, 2000
"Buyers fuming as oil prices rocket"
by J.M. Lawrence

"I expressed my deep concern and encouraged him [Speaker Finneran] to have a conversation with the senate president about alternatives, one of which would be to reintroduce the idea of licensure fees and registration fees, which we phased out."

House majority whip Barbara Gardner (D) Holliston
The Boston Globe, Feb. 8, 2000
"Legislators outside Hub fight Turnpike toll hike"

"The Sky is Falling" Gimme Lobby campaign of fear, lies and unmitigated greed is in full swing, but they can't seem to decide whether we can afford more new spending or can't afford a tax cut. What a real dilemma these days for the "More Is Never Enough!" [MINE!] crowd.

Rep. Gardner had best beware. Again I warn, CLT will return to court and pick up where we left off with our constitutional challenge of her proposed fee increases, which she obviously intends to use as clearly illegal tax revenues -- and if we do it'll be the end of any and all fees that charge more than the cost of providing the specific regulatory service.

Go ahead, Rep., make my day!

I don't know who the "we" is to which she refers. The Registry fees were reduced in an out-of-court settlement between us plaintiffs and the Weld administration during our court challenge. Was she with Gov. Weld back then and somehow we missed it?

"I don't think people go to the Registry expecting to get a free license," she added. "When you're faced with a crisis, you're trying to look at a solution that would be fair."

You want a "fair" solution, representative? How about one that's fair to those who foot the bill, often over and over again? If there are "unexpected cost overruns" then perhaps it's time to open that umbrella and dip into the $1.4 billion "rainy day" slush fund.

Better yet, why not tap the $8.3 billion tobacco settlement "taxpayer reimbursement" that will be pumping an additional $300 million into the state coffers each year for the next 25? We taxpayers already paid those old Medicaid bills the first time around, then paid the same bill again the second time around -- in fact they were the primary cause of the Dukakis fiscal crisis of 1989 and reason for the "temporary" income tax increase: We had to pay off the Medicaid bills Dukakis had hidden in his run for president using the "Massachusetts Miracle."

No representative, the commonwealth does not need more revenue. It needs to stop squandering the surpluses on every tax-and-spend wish list coming down the pike ... toll free. It needs to look at the budget it has doubled since that fiscal crisis and the "temporary" tax increase.

Of course that's not what they want to hear. More Is Never Enough! Rep. Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead) has his own solution: he wants to increase the gas tax by 25 cents a gallon! Been there, done that under Dukakis too, Doug -- the last time "the bridges were falling down." Where did all that new revenue go? The bridges are still falling down, we're told!

And how about that Boston Globe today, the new fiscal conservatives on the block decrying increased spending now that the alternative is our tax rollback. Have they no shame? That was a rhetorical question! We know that desperation knows no shame.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

A Boston Globe Editorial
Budget binge

Ask House Speaker Thomas Finneran what his biggest worry is these days, and he will tell you of his fears that the Commonwealth is becoming a financial binge drinker. He says that almost every state program is being financed at 5, 6, or 7 percent higher than the year before, and, like alcoholics, they always come back for more. On top of this, politicians who should know better are talking about unwise tax cuts that would make the situation worse.

It reminds him of the bad old days in the late 1980s and early '90s, when the state overextended itself, thinking that the "Massachusetts Miracle" would never end, only to be brought up terribl  short when the economy started south. Finneran remembers there were a few small voices shouting warnings in the wilderness -- Steve Pierce, Jack Flood -- but no one was payin  attention, letting the good times roll. Finneran himself was not in a position of responsibility the way he is now, but he regrets that he too went along with the financial chug-a-lug.

The state went through some hard times following the last fiscal flop. But here we are not 10 years later and once again the Commonwealth is assuming that somehow, this time, the business cycle has been repealed and there need be no limits.

The Big Dig is revising its cost estimates upward and will probably do so again before it's finished. There is a big commitment to education reform. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is in receivership, and who knows where that will end. And State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien has found that the state's unfunded pension liability is some $2 billion to $4 billion. Its revenue stream has, in the past, been reduced on the expectation that the stock market has nowhere to go but up. The "experience studies" that were mandated by law were never conducted. In addition, "we are picking up spending shortfalls from the federal government," says O'Brien. Now that we have all this money in surpluses it is hard to rein in spending, she adds.

Massachusetts' taste for champagne and its faith in a never-ending bull market are going to leave faces more than red when the bubble bursts. Speaker Finneran is right to be worried.

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

For politicians, tax cut pandering has lost its magic
By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist


Senator John F. Kerry, who supports Vice President Al Gore, says: "John McCain has it right. You need some investment, some tax cuts, that go to people who deserve them."

Kerry says McCain understands what the Republican establishment still doesn't quite get: "The American voter has smartened up. You can't pander to them on taxes anymore."

But that doesn't mean someone won't try.

Right here in Massachusetts, Governor Cellucci is pushing a plan to cut the income tax to 5 percent.

Incredibly, Cellucci said he is sticking with the plan even after the news that the cost of the Big Dig is expected to jump $1.4 billion, to $12.2 billion. He would rather raise tolls so he can give back tax money.

At a child-care education center in Weymouth yesterday, Kerry equated the amount of money it would need to give every child in Massachusetts a quality education with the amount Cellucci i  proposing to give back in taxes -- roughly $1.1 billion.

John Brockelman, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, insists that he is "convinced, absolutely" that Massachusetts voters want what Cellucci is determined to give them -- $1.64 a day for a family of four.

As proof of that, he points to two old polls and the fact that Bill Clinton called for a $350 million tax cut in his recent State of the Union Message. "We know that Bill Clinton is one of those politicians who poll on a daily basis," says Brockelman, "and if he didn't think people wanted a tax cut, he wouldn't have asked for one."

Ultimately, the tax cut debate in Massachusetts is a microcosm of the larger national debate.

How much should we spend, how much should we save, and how much do we really expect back?

Are we willing to put our money where we say our priorities are -- in education, technology, and infrastructure?

What do we think is worthy of public investment? Nationally, that means deciding how much to commit to shoring up Medicare and Social Security. Locally, it could mean choosing between plugging the gap for a bankrupt HMO or building a new ballpark....

The Boston Globe
Tuesday, February 8, 2000

Legislators outside Hub fight Turnpike toll hike
By Tina Cassidy
Globe Staff

Rebelling against toll increases, a group of lawmakers is rallying colleagues to find "more equitable ways" to pay off the soaring costs of the Big Dig, now expected to reach $12.2 billion.

Legislators from the North Shore and western suburbs, whose constituents face doubling of harbor tunnel tolls and increases of some Massachusetts Turnpike tolls early next year, are discussing everything from a 25-cent gas tax to reinstating Registry of Motor Vehicle fees to avoid the toll increases.

Senator David P. Magnani (D-Framingham) said he and other opponents of the toll increases would go to court to prevent them.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham signaled they are open to considering legislation to prevent higher tolls. Such a move would create a major political headache for Governor Paul Cellucci, who has argued that a $1.4 billion Central Artery shortfall can be paid off through Turnpike measures alone.

"If there's continued absence of leadership on this issue, we're not going to stand idly by," Birmingham said.

Magnani has organized a caucus of five senators and 12 representatives to meet next week to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, 24 legislators from Essex County, on the North Shore, plan to hold their own strategy session on the issue, perhaps as soon as today.

And yesterday, House majority whip Barbara Gardner of Holliston met with Finneran to plead her case against toll increases.

"I expressed my deep concern and encouraged him to have a conversation with the senate president about alternatives, one of which would be to reintroduce the idea of licensure fees and registration fees, which we phased out," Gardner said.

In 1996, then Governor William F. Weld did away with $30 car-registration renewal fees, which were charged every two years, instead instituting a one-time $30 fee good for the life of the car. Weld also ordered that driver's license renewal fees be slashed from $33.75 to $2 in 2001.

The higher fees would be reinstated to pay for Big Dig costs, under Gardner's plan.

"That would bring in about $100 million," Garnder said. "Every motorist virtually in the Commonwealth would be footing some of the bill, as opposed to people to the west of the city."

"I don't think people go to the Registry expecting to get a free license," she said. "When you're faced with a crisis, you're trying to look at a solution that would be fair."

The legislators also are mulling a plan to give regular commuters from the suburbs west of Boston and the North Shore discounts or exemptions from the toll increases.

Chelsea, Charlestown, East Boston, and South Boston all get significant discounts when they use the harbor tunnels and Tobin Bridge. Chelsea residents, for example, pay only 30 cents on the $1 bridge toll. Under a plan already passed by the House, suburban commuters would get similar reductions. The proposal, part of the transportation bond bill, is now before the Senate.

There is already a push to "maintain that and maybe strengthen it," Gardner said.

Representative Douglas W. Petersen of Marblehead, who is organizing the North Shore legislators, said he is talking about raising the gas tax by 25 cents and dedicating a portion of the sales tax to cover the project shortfall. Petersen said those measures would "allow for the rest of the Commonwealth ... to share the costs."

Petersen said legislators are angered by the continued reliance on tolls and the lack of control over costs of the project.

"It's got me all worked up," he said, adding that "there may be enough of sizable group where we can hopefully convince our colleagues that this is a matter of justice. So we'll see."

Magnani said he would be blunt with his colleagues from other regions: If they do not support capping tolls, they can forget about his support when they need it.

He said he would tell them: "The next time an issue comes to your district, why would you assume to come to us, Metrowest, for support, if you can't respond to our situation here? It's not a threat. It's simply a sense of articulating the need for equity and reciprocity."

But the problem for Magnani and others is that the Legislature does not have the authority to dictate the cost of tolls. That power falls under the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which must pay for the Big Dig.

What the Legislature could do, however, is "pass a bill to make something not happen," such as prohibiting further toll increases, Magnani said. "And that's always much tougher."

Magnani said he feared a ballot initiative that would provide tax credits for excise tax and toll payments will gain steam if the Legislature does not offer drivers some relief from rising tolls. The measure would cost the state $700 million in revenue, according to official estimates.

"If folks aren't giving us any alternative, what do you say to them?" he asked.

Meanwhile yesterday, Turnpike Authority officials met with financial advisers to determine whether there is a better way to cover the shortfall.

Big Dig chief of staff Jeremy Crockford said "there are a number of options on the table right now. We're going through each of them."

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