CLT Update
Wednesday, January 31, 2001

State Sen. Richard Moore threatens tax rollback;
defenders threaten "war"

Voters across the state will be watching to see whether their individual representatives vote to retain the law enacted by the people and for the people...

Boston Globe editorial
Jan. 31, 2001
[Full editorial below]

I hope the Boston Globe editorial board feels as strongly about the initiative petition process when it comes  to our tax rollback as it does when it applies to the Clean Elections Law, because our rollback is already under fire!

Watch out, folks, arrogance is running rampant on Beacon Hill. In this climate of perceived legislative invincibility anything's possible. That Sen. Richard T. Moore would even dare hint at overturning our hard-earned tax rollback is a warning to be heeded.

Chip Ford

State House News Service

Liberals look to revisit income tax cut,
detractors threaten "war"

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 29, 2001 ... There's a movement afoot in the Senate to tie the new voter-approved income tax cut to economic triggers -- a plan endorsed last year by the House but ignored in the Upper Branch -- but threats of "war on Beacon Hill" are already rising among Republicans.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation last year offered the trigger plan, which gradually reduced the income tax to 5 percent, but halted the phase-in if personal income growth fell below a certain level. Hoping to head off Gov. Paul Cellucci's ballot question, the House incorporated the MTF plan into its fiscal 2001 budget. But the Senate never took it up, and the plan died during private budget negotiations.

Now, human service advocates and a key member of Senate leadership say the slowing economy warrants a more cautious approach to the three-year, $1.2 billion income tax cut approved by 60 percent of the voters last November. And their critics are countering that senators and advocates "rolled the dice" in a political miscalculation last fall. And any efforts to weaken the ballot law will touch off a "war."

Health Care Committee Co-chairman Sen. Richard Moore, former chair of the House Taxation Committee, said senators decided last year not to take up the MTF plan because "they were really trying to hold the line on any tax cut and didn't want to move halfway." Senators may want to take another look at the MTF plan now that the income tax cut has passed and the economy's slowing, he said.

"I don't know that there'd be necessarily any reluctance on the part of many of the senators to revisit that," Moore said. "I think as people hear more about the economy, that the cries for it may get stronger. It's not necessarily inconsistent with what the voters approved."

The suggestions to "undo the will of the voters" incited Cellucci, who is pledging to personally recruit Republicans in 2002 to run against lawmakers who support such a measure, should it officially surface that soon. Cellucci said the percolating effort reminds him of former Gov. Michael Dukakis and the Democratic lawmakers of the late 1980s.

"They see what the voters have done, and they want to try to be cute with it -- 'we know better than the voters, we're going to do it our way instead of their way,'" Cellucci said. "That's what got us into trouble the last time. The we-know-better-than-you crowd was a disaster. That's exactly who they sound like."

Such sentiments may be ascendant among rank-and-file senators, but Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea) rejected the notion. "The voters having passed Question 4, my very strong predisposition is that we ought to live with what they passed," Birmingham said. "This is a matter that was fully and fairly debated before the people of the Commonwealth."

While the House unanimously supported the MTF plan last year, its leadership is scornful of opponents' post-election conversion. House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Mattapan) laughed out loud Monday when told of the new rumblings. He said there was "profound disappointment" last year in the House that the MTF plan was "not fully and fairly considered" in the Senate. Finneran said he suspects that senators ignored the MTF plan under pressure from the "advocacy community."

Despite its past support for the MTF plan, it's unlikely that the House would consider any immediate changes to the initiative petition, Finneran said. Members still rankle over being "snickered at" by both the governor and the Senate, and might want to let advocates stew, he said. "They take this absolute, dogmatic position and then say, 'oh, yeah, hey, we rolled all the dice, save us from ourselves,'" Finneran said. "Have some of the dessert. Have some of what you ordered. I don't want to say enjoy it, because nobody's going to enjoy it."

The leaders of the opposition to the income tax cut question bristled at the "rolled the dice" characterization. Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts Executive Director James St. George said his campaign made a "calculated decision" to lobby against the MTF plan in the Senate because its passage would have undermined TEAM's argument that the ballot question would harm social services, he said.

"It was our very clear sense that people were going to vote yes on the tax cut and if another tax cut passed first, they were still going to vote yes unless we could convince them that taking that money off the table was risky to things they cared about," St. George said. "We couldn't make that case if we were already going to take it off the table. If the Legislature was already taking it off, what plausible case was there for voting no?"

While St. George said the MTF plan was preferable to the voter-approved income tax cut, he said TEAM does not intend to push for alteration of the ballot question. Neither does the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said President Michael Widmer. Last year's debate was about "ideas," but now the question revolves around "undoing the will of the voters," Widmer said.

While up-to-date figures on personal income growth are not yet available, Widmer said the MTF plan would probably have resulted in little or no income tax cut this year, compared to the $400 million or so that the ballot question will deliver in fiscal 2002. "That's much larger than our proposal now that we've entered a period of slow growth," Widmer said. "We felt strongly that (the MTF plan) was the better alternative. We think recent developments show clearly show the wisdom of our proposal. But the voters have spoken."

That's the rallying cry of Senate Republicans, who are talking about filibusters and other ways to "hold things up." Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow) said the voters' overwhelming support for the income tax cut proved that Democratic leaders were "out of touch." While Lees has never been shy about offering tax cut amendments, he said Republicans didn't bother to offer the MTF plan as an amendment because Democrats indicated "they weren't supportive." He said Democrats could have "had their way" by compromising, but should now recognize that "it's time to fold."

Lees said he has heard the talk in Senate circles about revising the income tax cut approved by voters. "To turn around and poke our finger in the eye of the public would be wrong," Lees said. "I think there would be war on Beacon Hill if that happened."

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Gov rips lawmaker's bid to delay tax cut 
News briefs

Gov. Paul Cellucci yesterday accused lawmakers of trying to "undo the will of the voters" amid reports a key senator had proposed delaying the voter-passed tax cut if the economy sours.

Sen. Richard T. Moore (D-Uxbridge) said he would propose stretching out the $1.2 billion tax cut -- by linking future cuts to the state's economy -- if tax revenues continue to fall.

"It would certainly be on the table if we saw the revenues dropping and this was going to (cause) significant problems," said Moore, chairman of the Senate Health Care Committee. "If (Cellucci) sold people the tax cut on the basis that he could cut taxes and there wouldn't be any pain, then he misled them."

Compiled from staff reports.

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, January 31, 2001

A Boston Globe Editorial
Finneran's grip

AS SPEAKER, Thomas Finneran has made gestures toward elevating the reputation of the House, hosting prominent guest speakers and delivering an annual oration of his own. All the while, his tightening grip has been squeezing democracy out of the chamber.

Another ugly scene occurred Monday when Finneran bruised half a dozen Democrats who had failed his loyalty test.

During Finneran's tenure, every year has seen less debate, less dissent, less willingness to fight for the public interest rather than the leadership's desires. There has also been a steady decline in the number of people running for House seats, and some House members believe Finneran is determined to perpetuate that sad fact by scuttling the Clean Elections Law that promises to encourage more competition for the Legislature.

Finneran has made the House a very difficult place to work for anyone with half a brain and an ounce of independence, and the result is that very few such people are there now.

He has not been subtle. Finneran's purges began soon after he took office as speaker, when he demoted many of the Democrats who had voted for Majority Leader Richard Voke. It didn't matter that this group included people like Representative John E. McDonough, one of the most expert legislators in the nation on the crucial subject of health care. This was an enormous loss for all of Massachusetts and there is only one person to blame -- Finneran.

Many brutal chapters later, on Monday, Finneran demoted five of the 15 Democrats who had been brazen enought to vote to continue a term limit on the speakership -- as Finneran himself had supposedly recommended. Also on Monday, Finneran stripped a chairmanship from Representative Douglas Petersen of Marblehead, who voted to end the term limit but also said he would not take part in gutting the Clean Elections Law. Still in some shock yesterday, Petersen said of Finneran, "You disagree with him and you're going to be punished -- that's the message."

Finneran has achieved an unprecedented amount of power as the presiding officer in the House, but he is not the ultimate authority. Voters still elect the members and occassionally -- as with Clean Elections -- they take it upon themselves to pass laws.

Clean Elections provides some hope of a return of democracy to the House. It is a system that has gotten off to a promising start in Maine and Arizona. Finneran should not be allowed to protect his fiefdom by killing the law. Voters across the state will be watching to see whether their individual representatives vote to retain the law enacted by the people and for the people, or whether they vote for rule by one man.

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