The Berkshire Eagle
Monday, May 15, 2000
Group mobilizes to fight tax cut
By Jennifer Fenn
Eagle Statehouse Bureau
BOSTON -- A group opposed to Gov. Paul Cellucci's
income tax cut proposal is mounting a massive statewide campaign to convince taxpayers
that the rollback is not affordable and that it is unfair and irresponsible.
Meanwhile, tax cut proponents are pounding the
pavement to make sure they have enough signatures to place the issue before voters in
November. They also are waging a counterattack, accusing the Tax Equity Alliance for
Massachusetts (TEAM) of spreading lies to scare the public into opposing the rollback.
TEAM sent out its first mass mailing last week urging
residents to oppose the tax cut plan, which is headed for November's ballot as long as the
Tax Rollback Committee collects 10,000 signatures by June 21.
Even though the state's population base is in eastern
Massachusetts, the group is spreading out across the commonwealth, holding meetings from
North Adams to Fitchburg to Boston.
"A voter in North Adams counts just as much as a
voter in Boston," said James St. George, executive director of TEAM, which has
organized the Campaign for Massachusetts' Future.
Cellucci's proposal would roll back the personal
income tax rate to 5 percent by 2003. The Cellucci administration says the tax cut would
save the average family of four up to $500.
But it would also take $1.2 billion out of the state's
coffers and jeopardize state programs and squander opportunities to invest in the future,
said St. George.
"We know from our own polling that voters will
always say yes to a tax cut until they see a trade-off that a tax cut creates," St.
"We know they'd rather spend the state surplus on
reducing class sizes, fixing school buildings and expanding access to health care. All of
those are more important to people. Our strategy is just to travel around the state as
many days as we can to as many locations to explain that [that] is the trade-off."
St. George pointed to figures from the state
Department of Revenue that show communities suffer when the state's revenues go down. For
example, between 1988 and 1993, the amount of local aid to Adams dropped 42 percent; North
Adams, 22 percent; Pittsfield, 31 percent; and Great Barrington, 50 percent.
School aid also went down during that same time
period, he said. Adams lost 80 percent; Great Barrington, 64 percent; North Adams, 38
percent, and Pittsfield, 29 percent.
"The point is, when the state gets in financial
trouble, the first place it cuts is local aid," St. George said.
But Paul Melkonian, chairman of the Tax Rollback
Committee, said the state budget will continue to grow, despite the tax cut, and that key
programs will not be jeopardized. In fact, budget cuts would be more likely if voters do
not approve the tax rollback to help spur the economy.
"We're going to counteract their campaign, which
is one of fear and misinformation, with factual information that gives them the case to
vote for the rollback," Melkonian said. "When TEAM talks about cuts to the
budget, they're lying. Not a penny needs to be cut from any existing program. It's just
not true and I think people will see through it."
TEAM will be drawing support from a broad-based
coalition of education and health-care advocates, labor unions, human service
organizations, state and local elected officials, including Senate President Thomas
Birmingham, D-Chelsea; House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Mattapan; and the Massachusetts
Mayors Association. Mayors opposed to the tax cut include Leominster Mayor Dean J.
Mazzarella, Fitchburg Mayor Mary Whitney, Pittsfield Mayor Gerald S. Doyle Jr. and North
Adams Mayor John Barrett III.
The tax cut has support from more conservative groups,
such as Citizens for Limited Taxation,
Republican town committees and key elected officials like Cellucci.
Melkonian said it doesn't surprise him that the mayors
oppose the tax cut, because they don't want to part with any money.
"They're politicians and they want taxpayer money
to spend," Melkonian said. "There's no other reason for it. They threaten
property tax hikes, but they're sitting on millions of dollars in free cash. The
government everywhere is swimming in cash."
So besides collecting signatures, Melkonian said the
committee is trying to dispel the untruths he claims TEAM is spreading.
"We're doing outreach to groups and
organizations, but our concentration now is to get over the hurdles of the
signatures," Melkonian said. "TEAM's been making its pitch - elderly people will
die, we'll never be able to afford health care. It's a bunch of bunk. They've been out
there trying to scare people."
He said the proponents will simply state the facts and
focus on four key issues: Lawmakers promised that the hike would be temporary; the tax cut
will help working families; that it will impose fiscal discipline on a free-spending
Legislature; and that it will keep Massachusetts competitive.
Melkonian said local aid was cut over the past decade
because a Democratic governor and Democratic Legislature built the budget up so high it
couldn't sustain the spending during the recession.
"And that's what they're doing now," he