Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Friday, February 11, 2000


The Boston Globe
Friday, February 11, 2000

Threat seen to license fee cuts
By Michael Rezendes
Globe Staff

Governor Paul Cellucci's most important allies in his fight for an income tax rollback say they will file suit to block the governor from maintaining the $33.75 driver's license renewal fee.

The threat from Citizens for Limited Taxation could disrupt Cellucci's plan to prepare the state financially for a possible bailout of the Big Dig, which just announced a $1.4 billion shortfall.

Citizens for Limited Taxation says license renewal fees cannot be used to pay for the massive highway project.

"What the governor is proposing is clearly illegal," said Barbara Anderson, the longtime leader of the anti-tax group. "Fees charged by the Registry of Motor Vehicles can't be used for anything except covering the cost of the Registry."

Cellucci administration officials disagree and say the governor will not change the "insurance policy" he unveiled for the Big Dig tunnel and highway project on Wednesday that includes keeping the $45 million in annual license fees.

"We respectfully disagree with Barbara Anderson and think this is an appropriate use of these funds," said Administration and Finance spokesman Joe Landolfi, noting that Registry fees are currently used to fund state transportation projects.

But Anderson said the Registry's current fees are illegal because they generate $375 million in revenue while the agency's budget is just $60 million a year. She also contended that Cellucci could lose most Registry revenues, as well as revenues from fees assessed by other agencies, if Citizens for Limited Taxation returns to court to press the issue.

"Right now it's $45 million," Anderson said. "Why fight about it when it's going to be so much more if we win?"

Cellucci also is facing criticism from a second anti-tax organization working to win voter approval of a ballot question that would allow car owners to deduct local auto excise taxes and tolls from their state income tax.

"What happened to the guy who said he never met a tax cut he didn't like?" asked Doug Barth, chairman of the Commuter Tax Relief Coalition. "The governor is either getting very bad political advice or the problems of the Big Dig are a lot bigger than he's leading the public to believe."

Barth said his anger over Cellucci's decision to oppose the question on excise taxes and tolls was further inflamed by Andrew S. Natsios, Cellucci's administration and finance secretary, who said Wednesday that residents of western suburbs who use the Massachusetts Turnpike to commute to Boston are able to pay toll increases.

"It's one of the richest regions in New England," Natsios said. "They can afford it."

"That is just unbelievable," Barth said. "We have a lot of support from school teachers and others in Metro West who are very blue-collar and who will tell you that $500 to $1,000 a year is a lot of money."

Rob Gray, Cellucci's top political adviser, said the governor's opposition to the ballot question on tolls and excise taxes could help win passage of the income tax rollback because it would undermine the argument of opponents who say the state can't afford the combined fiscal impact of the three tax-cutting measures that are likely to appear on the November ballot.

But James St. George, executive director of the Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts, said the apparent fissure between Cellucci and Anderson will be a boon for opponents of Cellucci's plan to roll back the state income tax to 5 percent from 5.85 percent.

Anderson and Citizens for Limited Taxation not only oppose Cellucci's plan to maintain license renewal fees but also support the ballot question to provide a state rebate for excise taxes and tolls.

"It makes it very difficult for the income tax rollback coalition when one leader is saying we can afford passage of both questions and one is saying we can only afford one," said St. George.

Until Wednesday, Cellucci had responded to questions about whether he would support the excise tax-toll rebate question with a familiar mantra: "I never met a tax cut I didn't like."

But he came out against the measure Wednesday after hearing a presentation by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent fiscal watchdog group, which said the combined fiscal impact of the three ballot measures could be $2.4 billion by 2004.

Cellucci said he was particularly struck by estimates showing the impact of the question of excise taxes and tolls could be as high as $700 million the first year it goes into effect. Th  income tax rollback would take an estimated $1 billion from state revenue but would be phased in over four years.

Meanwhile, a ballot measure allowing residents to take state income tax deductions for charitable contributions would take an estimated $200 million from state coffers.

Anderson said Cellucci's plan to maintain driver's license renewal fees at $33.75 every five years is illegal under a 1984 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that says money from government fees, unlike general taxes, can only be used to benefit persons paying the money.

In the late 1980s, Anderson and others sued the Dukakis administration over the issue. They agreed to drop the suit after William F. Weld was elected governor and agreed to cut user fees.

"What Cellucci has proposed is a reversal of that agreement," Anderson said.

To:  MetroWest Daily News
Letters to the Editor

From: Chip Ford, CLT

Re: Cellucci: "No more toll hikes after 2001," MetroWest Daily News, Feb. 11

Dear Editor:

In your report "No more toll hikes after 2001" (Feb. 11), Sen. David Magnani stated: "We're no longer prepared to take those promises at face value, but I'm glad the governor is starting to get the message."

Your paper on July 9, 1989 reported: "In defending his vote, Rep. David P. Magnani yesterday emphasized that the hikes would only be in place for 18 months and that revenue generated would only go towards past bills." That "temporary" income tax increase to which then-state representative David Magnani referred is now eleven years old. Promises, promises.

Apparently Sen. Magnani subscribes to the candid observation of former-President of France Charles DeGaulle: "Since a politician never believes what he says, he is surprised when others believe him."

Let this be a lesson for all taxpayers.

Chip Ford
Director of Operations
Citizens for Limited Taxation

The MetroWest Daily News
February 11, 2000

Cellucci: No more toll hikes after 2001
By Steve LeBlanc
News Statehouse Bureau

BOSTON -- Stung by criticism he is ignoring the plight of Turnpike commuters, Gov. Paul Cellucci yesterday vowed that January's planned toll hike will be the last -- for now.

"What I've taken off the table is to try to raise those tolls higher, beyond what was in the plan," Cellucci told reporters outside his Statehouse office yesterday. "That's pretty much, as far as I'm concerned, dead on arrival."

Cellucci was responding to suggestions from Turnpike Authority officials that they might have to raise tolls even higher than the increases already scheduled for January. Cellucci endorses the January increase, but had not commented until yesterday on the possibility of even higher tolls.

"That is not a place we're prepared to go," Cellucci said.

MetroWest lawmakers eyed Cellucci's promise with skepticism.

"Is he prepared to put that in statute? I'm not exactly sure why anyone would accept that based on the history of the last two years," Framingham state Sen. David Magnani said yesterday.

"We're no longer prepared to take those promises at face value, but I'm glad the governor is starting to get the message," Magnani said.

Cellucci's comment came a day after he vowed to fight a ballot question that would allow MetroWest commuters to save hundreds of dollars in tolls each year.

The Turnpike Authority has proposed doubling some tolls along the Boston end of the roadway in January.

Initially the tolls were scheduled to increase in January 2002, but the authority pushed up the date to help pay for a $1.4 billion cost overrun at the Big Dig.

At a Wednesday press conference, Cellucci defended the premature toll hikes, suggesting MetroWest commuters would benefit from the Central Artery project more than other commuters.

"The Big Dig project is going to help the economy of the metropolitan region. There's no question about it. I think it will be of particular help to the communities along the Massachusetts Turnpike because they're the ones who I think will get the benefit from it," Cellucci said.

At that same press conference, Cellucci's finance guru Andrew Natsios, a resident of Holliston, said people who live in MetroWest and commute to Boston are "prosperous people" who can easily pay the higher tolls.

"That's why they live in MetroWest. It's not a poor region. It's one of the richest regions in New England. ... They can afford (the toll increase)," Natsios said.

Magnani bristled at the comment. There are plenty of working- and middle-class commuters living in MetroWest who will have a hard time absorbing the hundreds of extra dollars in tolls they will have to pay next year, he said.

"That's a real slap in the face of anyone who's struggling to make ends meet," Magnani said yesterday. "That kind of blanket statement shows an incredible insensitivity."

MetroWest lawmakers are planning to meet Tuesday to discuss possible legislative remedies to the toll increase. Those remedies include everything from repealing the law linking the tolls to the Big Dig to designing a "frequent driver" discount for MetroWest commuters.

But lawmakers face several daunting hurdles, not the least of which is the increasing pressure on state resources by the escalating cost of the Big Dig.

Cellucci yesterday sought to ease that pressure slightly by scuttling plans to institute "lifetime drivers licenses," which would have eliminated the $33 renewal fee drivers must pay every five years. Those fees, which bring the state $45 million each year, will remain.

The toll increase is expected to bring in an additional $60 million in 2001.

But neither remedy will come close to bridging the $1.4 billion gap -- and that makes local lawmakers nervous the state may again seek to hike tolls if the Big Dig's price tag continues to rise.

MetroWest lawmakers also scoffed yesterday at Cellucci's contention that higher tolls do not amount to a tax increase -- despite the fact the extra money is not going to the Turnpike, but to the Big Dig.

"We don't want any of our tolls to go to the Big Dig," said Magnani, who advised Cellucci to seek a fairer way to raise the money.

Also Wednesday, Cellucci said he would reluctantly oppose a ballot question designed to allow Massachusetts drivers to reduce their state income tax payment by the amount they pay in tolls and excise taxes.

Cellucci said the state cannot afford the question, which would cost the state about $600 million to $700 million each year.

Cellucci maintained, however, the state can still afford his plan to lower the income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5 percent at a cost of about $1.2 billion to the state annually. That tax cut is also slated to appear on the November ballot.

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