and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Prop 2½ under attack, next

House lawmakers are quietly pushing to ratchet up a host of local taxes and gut Proposition 2½ just one week after whacking taxpayers with more than $1 billion in new state levies....

"This is open warfare," said Chip Faulkner of Citizens for Limited Taxation, the original backers of Proposition 2½....

Filed by Rep. Deborah Blumer (D-Framingham), the amendment would allow cities and towns to raise taxes as high as necessary to cover the local budget, as adjusted for inflation, without voter approval.

Blumer called the 2.5 percent limit on yearly property tax hikes "artificial," and said Proposition 2½ is a relic of a bygone era of fewer public school students and burgeoning commercial tax bases.

"It's really outlived its usefulness," Blumer said of the voter-approved initiative.

The Boston Herald
May 8, 2002
House tax plans include bid to whack Prop 2½

Other News

Romney will ax jumps in taxes: Promises to nix $1 billion package
The Boston Herald
May 8, 2002

Jihad on judiciary latest power play
by Rachelle Cohen
The Boston Herald
May 8, 2002

Attack on judiciary Finneran's revenge
A Boston Herald editorial
May 8, 2002

SJC criticizes budget amendment
The Boston Globe
May 8, 2002

Finneran vs. the judiciary
A MetroWest Daily News editorial
May 8, 2002

The time has come to throw another tea party in Boston
by State Rep. George N. Peterson Jr.
The Telegram & Gazette
May 7, 2002

Big spenders
A Telegram & Gazette editorial
May 5, 2002

Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Is Proposition 2½ next on the tax-relief chopping block?

Be assured, today as the feeding frenzy opens on Beacon Hill, "everything is on the table" in the misnamed House of Representatives. Tax-and-spenders are emboldened as never before. They're grabbing all they can wrap their hands around while they think they can get away with it.

In today's Boston Globe report ("SJC criticizes budget amendment"), Thomas E. Dwyer Jr., the former president of the Boston Bar Association, said: "The court system is facing its greatest crises since the American Revolution."

And so too are taxpayers.

CLT first heard about this latest brazen assault yesterday afternoon, courtesy of Boston Herald ace State House reporter Elisabeth Beardsley. You can read Chip Faulkner's full response below, in her report.

I got a call at 6:30 this morning from WBZ Radio AM-1030 seeking my response. (Believe me, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" in protecting you, the taxpayer, and we're always available, even if we're on only our first cup of coffee, if lucky!) My response went something like:

Q. What do you think this means?

A. If gutting Prop 2½ passes, it means we should all consider selling our property while it still has some value and moving out of state while we still can.

Q. Isn't that pretty extreme?

A. This attack on taxpayers is pretty extreme; extreme attacks call for extreme responses.

Obviously the tax-and-spenders are out of control.

Wouldn't it be incredible if, while she is temporarily down, the Legislature is able to undo everything Barbara has accomplished in her two-decades-plus of "indefatigable" defense of taxpayers? The question is, so what will you and I do about it?

You know the drill by now: call your state "representatives" today ... RIGHT NOW. Tell them don't dare touch Prop 2½.

Don't just e-mail them ... call them too! You've read the reports I've delivered to your e-mail box, the quotes from state reps: "The majority of calls I received favored tax increases ..."!

Send this message to every property owner you know, and urge them to also act immediately or prepare to pay intolerably higher property taxes - as we did before Prop 2½ -- as long as they can continue to still afford their homes.

The House feeding frenzy will launch later this morning. Make your calls now ... or forever hold your peace, until you're forced to sell, at a loss.

Chip Ford

Call your legislators.
Please do it NOW.

Find and contact your state rep and senator

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

House tax plans include bid to whack Prop 2½
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley

House lawmakers are quietly pushing to ratchet up a host of local taxes and gut Proposition 2½ just one week after whacking taxpayers with more than $1 billion in new state levies.

At least half a dozen tax proposals are tucked among the House's 1,555 proposed budget riders - including one to decimate the landmark 1980 ballot initiative that limited property tax hikes. "This is open warfare," said Chip Faulkner of Citizens for Limited Taxation, the original backers of Proposition 2½. "It's a very popular law and people want it left alone."

Filed by Rep. Deborah Blumer (D-Framingham), the amendment would allow cities and towns to raise taxes as high as necessary to cover the local budget, as adjusted for inflation, without voter approval.

Blumer called the 2.5 percent limit on yearly property tax hikes "artificial," and said Proposition 2½ is a relic of a bygone era of fewer public school students and burgeoning commercial tax bases.

"It's really outlived its usefulness," Blumer said of the voter-approved initiative. "We're really not talking about a huge leap."

The House convenes this morning to debate how to spend the $1.065 billion contained in last week's tax-hike package.

It was not immediately clear whether House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran would allow the tax-hike amendments to come up for debate.

The House adopted a parliamentary order two weeks ago, banning proposals that would increase state taxes from the budget debate.

Finneran spokesman Charles Rasmussen said the speaker frowns on new tax-hike proposals. "It's my understanding that they'll be ruled out of order," Rasmussen said.

But Blumer - viewed by many House observers as a Finneran favorite - argued that her amendments deal with local taxes, not state taxes. She claimed that Finneran's leadership team promised her several times that her amendments would be brought up for debate.

Members have filed $2.7 billion worth of amendments to partially restore $2 billion in program cuts to the bare-bones $21.8 billion spending plan unveiled two weeks by Finneran.

House leaders have indicated that massive cuts to mental health and retardation services are the first that are likely to be restored, followed by hundreds of millions of dollars in education aid.

While Finneran has strenuously tried to keep the tax and budget debates separate, lawmakers have filed stacks of amendments that would hike local levies on hotels, meals and even recycling programs.

The hotel tax, also sponsored by Blumer, would allow communities to jack the existing 4 percent tax on hotel rooms up to 6 percent, raising an extra $40 million or so for cities and towns.

With the state still warning of local aid cuts, Blumer said cities and towns need others ways to raise cash.

"It really was intended to provide a safety valve for communities," Blumer said. "Local budgets are really hurting."

But the hospitality industry protested the proposed tax hike, predicting it would further drive down business for a tourism industry that's still struggling with the aftermath of Sept. 11.

With occupancy rates currently lagging about 10 percent below last year's level, hotels are barely covering their expenses, said Massachusetts Lodging Association Director Art Canter.

"Anything that undermines the marketability of hotels in Massachusetts places us further behind the eight-ball," Canter said.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is pushing a companion amendment allowing communities the option of hiking the meals tax, which currently stands at 5 percent.

Boston officials estimate that a 1 percent meals surtax would generate an extra $15 million for the city.

All the talk of new tax hikes sat poorly with financial watchdogs, who gave a reluctant nod to last week's tax package.

Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer said business leaders have already accepted more in tax hikes than the $700 million they believed was strictly necessary.

Now, Widmer said, rank-and-file House members have to come to grips with the fact that at least $1 billion must be slashed from the spending side of the ledger, if the state is to remedy its deficit.

"The House has already pushed as far as it should go," Widmer said. "We would certainly hope that House leadership draws a line in the sand."

Assistant House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) said lawmakers are looking for their "pound of flesh" after expending political capital on the tax-hike votes.

"We've got a finger to put in the dike, but the dike's going to be the size of a tank," Jones said. "We need an arm and a leg and a few bodies thrown in there."

The Republicans' tax-free alternative budget is the first item up for debate when the House convenes this morning. It is widely expected that the proposal, which includes casinos, will be disregarded.

Meanwhile, the state's highest-ranking judges made a rare joint appearance at the State House to protest the House's proposed $60 million in cuts to the judiciary, which could force an extra 1,100 layoffs on top of the 800 job cuts implemented last year.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, speaking after the unprecedented step of canceling a high court sitting, said the cuts jeopardize citizens' ability to seek timely, quality justice.

"Access to justice, impartial justice, is the linchpin of our democracy," Marshall said.

The jurists studiously avoided discussing the Legislature's attempts to seize more control over hiring and discipline at the courts.

But Massachusetts Bar Association President Carol DiMento sounded off, saying, "This is just another example of trying to splinter the court. This is about money. It should not be about the Legislature attempting to intimidate the court."

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Romney will ax jumps in taxes:
Promises to nix $1 billion package

by David R. Guarino and Karen E. Crummy

Republican Mitt Romney vowed yesterday to roll back $1 billion in legislative tax hikes, blaming Democrats for allowing waste and patronage to flourish while balancing the budget on taxpayers' backs.

Romney, striking out at Democrats on the eve of budget debate in the House of Representatives, told a North Shore fund-raiser his liberal opponents care only about spending - not cutting.

"We shouldn't throw more money at a broken system, we should fix the system," Romney said. "This campaign is about cleaning up the mess on Beacon Hill. And while I can't stop what's going on now, as governor, I will roll back these tax increases."

But aides could not say how Romney will overcome the towering majority of Democrats in the Legislature. Deputy campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom said only that, "Mitt can be very persuasive."

Democrats seized on the promise as hollow rhetoric.

"I challenge Mitt Romney to tell us where he will cut $1 billion without harming the progress we've made in reducing class sizes, attracting and retaining teachers, and expanding access to health care," Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham said.

Mark Longabaugh, a spokesman for Democrat Robert Reich, said Romney's comments were appropriately given among the GOP elite.

"It's appropriate that Mitt Romney is making a pledge to return capital gains tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals in Massachusetts while hob-knobbing with the Republican boys at the Danvers Yacht Club," Longabaugh said.

Romney's comments marked his first foray into the state's budget debacle. It puts him at odds with the public view of the tax hikes approved last week in the House, according to the latest Herald poll.

Romney appeared at a birthday fund-raiser for Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins at the Danversport Yacht Club, promising to "sunset" any taxes within his first term as governor. He criticized the strategy utilized by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran to scare lawmakers into supporting hikes in the income, cigarette and capital gains taxes.

"Beacon Hill wants us to believe the choice is between higher taxes or Draconian cuts," Romney said. "I believe in a third way. Balancing the budget can only be achieved by first eliminating waste and the political patronage of both parties and reining in the high-growth areas of the budget."

The offensive comes after Romney refused to sign a "no new taxes" pledge early in his campaign, raising the ire of anti-tax groups, but said he would cut taxes while retaining spending on critical programs.

His comments will be echoed in a radio ad campaign being launched today by GOP lieutenant governor hopeful James Rappaport.

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Jihad on judiciary latest power play
by Rachelle Cohen

With the benefit of a little time and a little distance, Patricia McGovern's view of the State House is now crystal clear.

"The centralization of power has gotten worse because the people in charge are very, very bright and they know the budget in detail," said the former head of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and no slouch in the smarts department herself. "It's unique. It has never happened before. And it's profound."

House Speaker Tom Finneran (D-Boston) and Senate President Tom Birmingham both rose to their posts after heading their respective Ways and Means committees. And clearly neither has let go nor is likely to do so this year, when the budget will be the document that determines everything about how state government will be run.

Even as the House was voting last week to sock residents with one of the biggest tax hikes in recent history, McGovern was addressing the Ford Hall Forum on the topic "Is State Government Broken?"

Broken? "Absolutely not," she insisted.

But in her post as executive vice president for external affairs at CareGroup, she can look back on those years in the Legislature and say with all candor, "It's all about power and control, not good government."

It doesn't matter whether it's signing off on the purchasing of cars for the state (the thrill of which apparently eluded McGovern when she headed Ways and Means) or new hires in the courthouses, "You make this into a power game," she said. "It makes absolutely no public policy sense."

This week the power game goes into high gear.

Having relegated the acting governor to a virtual irrelevancy (suitable for the occasional bill signing), Finneran now wants to make his dominance of state government complete with a frontal assault on its third branch - the judiciary.

First there's the $30 million cut in the court budget (on top of $40 million cut in the current fiscal year). Then there's the budget amendment filed by Rep. Andrew Scaccia (D-Readville), widely believed to be doing the speaker's bidding with this effort aimed as stripping judges of virtually all power over the management of the courts and the hiring of personnel. Oh sure, the judiciary has not exactly covered itself in glory when it comes to efficient management and bringing the system into the 21st century. But that's not at all what this is about.

This is about two things: (1) payback for the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in the Clean Elections case; and (2) patronage.

The Scaccia bill would abolish the post of chief administrative justice, thus ridding the Legislature of at least one official who has stood in the way of turning the trial courts into yet another hack hiring hall. Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara would be replaced by a "non-judicial administrator." The bill would put clerk-magistrates and registrars of probate - known for their compliance with legislative wants and needs - in charge of their respective courts. The post of "first justice" would be eliminated in each court, just to make it abundantly clear who's really boss now.

Now can't say members of the judiciary don't share the blame here.

Last year when a similar budget rider took hiring authority over probation departments from judges and gave it to the commissioner of probation, there was hardly a peep out of judges until it was too late. The all-too-acquiescent acting governor and her clueless chief counsel didn't even attempt a line-item veto.

Last week a petulant Superior Court Judge Allan van Gestel, addressing 1,600 lawyers at the Boston Bar Association Law Day Dinner spoke briefly of a state government that "seems at this point nearly dysfunctional," but choose to spend most of his allotted time beating up on the media in general and the Boston Herald in particular. Whatever.

Yesterday SJC Chief Justice Margaret Marshall made a rare visit to Beacon Hill to talk budgets as members of the bar began their lobbying efforts on the Hill. By day's end an excruciatingly diplomatic statement was released from all of the justices officially opposing the Scaccia amendment, noting it would "fundamentally and unilaterally reorganize the judicial branch of government without any prior consultation or deliberation."

Finneran has declared a jihad on the judiciary. Unfortunately the judiciary is forced to fight back under Marquess of Queensbury rules.

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

A Boston Herald editorial
Attack on judiciary Finneran's revenge

It seems House Speaker Tom Finneran wants to make his revenge on the judicial branch complete.

The budget amendment filed by Rep. Angela Scaccia (D-Readville) was so blatantly over the top - so complete in its proposed neutering of judges - that it seemed a joke. You know, just a shot across the bow of the judiciary. But word has rapidly spread that the proposed amendment is on the speaker's own wish-list. And what the speaker wants, the speaker gets these days.

There is, of course, the procedural issue. This sweeping piece of legislation, if approved, would be added to the budget without benefit of a public hearing or any of those other little democratic niceties.

The amendment would abolish the position of chief justice for administration and management, now filled by Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara, whose presence has been a constant source of annoyance to the Legislature from Day One. (Legislators would much prefer someone in the job who is, shall we say, more accessible and amenable to their job-seeking requests.)

That post would be replaced by a non-judicial administrator. The law would also make all clerks and registrars the official heads of their courts with hiring power over all non-judicial personnel. And there would no longer be a ``first justice" in any court. What would be the point? Any power appropriate to the title would be gone.

Oh, the bill includes a $10,000 pay raise, apparently on the assumption that judges will sell out their powers that cheaply.

What this legislation means is that anyone who stands in the way of legislators exercising their full and complete patronage rights over the courts would be either gone or stripped of power. The speaker's revenge would be complete.

Yes, it's that ugly, and it needs to be stopped.

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The Boston Globe
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

SJC criticizes budget amendment
By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff

Facing an increasingly hostile House leadership, the Supreme Judicial Court justices yesterday said a budget rider that would take away judges' control of the court system raises serious constitutional issues because it would "fundamentally and unilaterally" overhaul the judicial branch without consulting the legal community or seeking public input.

"No major part of government, let alone an entire branch, should be reorganized without an opportunity for discussion, deliberation, and comment by those who manage the organization and those who are served by it," the seven justices said in a letter they sent to Acting Governor Jane Swift, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham.

The unusual letter - along with an unprecedented appearance by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall at a State House rally by the legal community seeking to block House cuts to the court budget - reflects what many legal observers say is the most serious crisis facing the Massachusetts court system in decades.

The developments were sparked by a move by a top Finneran lieutenant, Representative Angelo Scaccia, to file a budget admendment that would transfer all administrative powers from judges to clerk magistrates in each court. The clerks, most of whom have close political ties to legislators, would oversee personnel, assignment of judges, and even hire judges' law clerks and secretaries.

With the legal community sounding alarms, Finneran late yesterday stopped short of disavowing Scaccia's sweeping amendment, but said he would have a "frank" discussion with his trusted lieutenant. He said he eschews using budget amendments to implement major changes in state government, as Scaccia's measure would.

Finneran also said he has yet to read the 34-page budget rider, but said he favors a Ways and Means Committee's proposal for a commission to study the management of the courts and recommend changes.

"Angelo did not consult with me. He filed it on his own," Finneran said. Asked if he would ask him to withdraw the measure, the speaker said: "Stay tuned. I will attempt to persuade every member that the most reasonable approach on these questions about judicial management are best resolved through a special commission."

In an interview, Marshall said she welcomes Finneran's support for a commission study.

"I have every indication the speaker would be open to collaborating with me and vice versa," she said. "He has signaled that, I have signaled that."

Some in the legal community, however, view the House proposal for a commission with suspicion because Finneran would appoint a majority of the members.

The Scaccia amendment also comes as Finneran and his House leaders, facing a $2 billion budget gap, propose cutting $60 million from the court accounts, a move that lawyers and judges claim will be devastating to a system that deals with everything from corporate disputes to protecting abused women and children.

The House-led move also comes just six months after Finneran pushed through a budget amendment that stripped judges of the authority to hire probation officers and assistant clerks in their courts. Birmingham allowed the measure to advance to Swift, who signed it.

In the interview yesterday, Finneran sought to downplay the hostility that has flared between judicial leaders and Beacon Hill. Some have characterized the House moves as a reaction to the SJC's ruling that ordered the state to fund the Clean Elections Law, which lawmakers despise, and to court administrators' refusals to accommodate lawmakers' requests for patronage jobs for their friends and political supporters. Finneran said that is not true.

"You can disagree but let's not let it lead to some kind of nuclear confrontation," Finneran said. "Of course I was disappointed in the decision. Big deal. The judges should not feel any brunt of an onslaught."

Still, leaders in the legal community expressed alarm over the situation.

"The court system is facing its greatest crises since the American Revolution," said Boston lawyer Thomas E. Dwyer Jr., the former president of the Boston Bar Association. "Its stature is being demeaned by the Legislature. It is losing confidence with both lawyers and non-lawyers that it can carry its constitutional mandate."

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The MetroWest Daily News
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Finneran vs. the judiciary

House Speaker Tom Finneran considers last week's lopsided vote to raise taxes by $1 billion one of his greatest achievements. By his lights, he identified the need for dramatic action and led his members to a difficult, but crucial, vote.

But for autocrats like Finneran, score-settling goes hand-in-hand with leadership, and Finneran has a score to settle with the Massachusetts judiciary.

For years, Finneran and his predecessors have chipped away at what is supposed to be a co-equal branch of state government, mostly in the interest of finding their friends and supporters jobs with no heavy lifting. In other states, the judiciary manages its own budget. Here, the Legislature controls the line-item budgets of 61 individual courts, a power lawmakers have used to keep judges in line. Judges, interested in modernizing the courts and adding diversity to the courts' workforce, have long resented the interference and in recent years quietly - too quietly - resisted it.

Upset at the courts' resistance to hiring their well-connected friends, legislative leaders last year took away from the judiciary the power to hire the state's probation officers, giving it instead to the commissioner of probation, a Finneran ally. The judges accepted that assault meekly, and Gov. Jane Swift signed the measure into law.

In January, the Supreme Judicial Court did something that enraged Finneran even more: It dared call the Legislature to account for failing to either fund or repeal the Clean Elections Law enacted by voters. Finneran's first reaction was to suggest judges should be elected, not appointed. His second reaction was to take even more hiring authority away from the courts.

Under an amendment to the budget filed by Finneran loyalist Angelo Scaccia, judges wouldn't even be able to hire their own secretaries. All hiring in the courts would be under the authority of the clerk-magistrates, who have been political appointees for centuries.

If approved, the change would all but bury the Cox Commission reforms enacted in 1978 in an attempt to shore up the independence of the judiciary and get the politics out of the courts. But the wall between politics and the courts was breached regularly, at budget time and whenever a powerful pol put in a good word for a buddy interested in a courthouse job.

Too often, the state's top judges have responded meekly to the politicians' threats, which only emboldens men like Finneran. Even in upholding the Clean Elections Law, the Supreme Judicial Court pulled its punches, identifying the Legislature as the problem but stopping short of ordering it to be part of the solution.

It's time for the judges to declare their independence in hiring and budgeting. More to the point, it's time House members declare their independence of Finneran and his gang by shooting down the Scaccia amendment.

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The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The time has come to throw another tea party in Boston
By State Rep. George N. Peterson Jr.

Like many folks, I drink a cup of coffee every morning. Depending on how early I leave for work or what kind of a day it is, I'll stop at one of several coffee shops to pick up that morning jump-start -- which shop all depends on my mood. Like most people, when it comes to coffee shops, we know the choices we can make.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have presented us the illusion of a choice, akin to a shell game, where things aren't always as they seem. By most accounts, the state's fiscal “crisis” has left us at a fork in the road. We can either sacrifice all that we know to be near and dear to our hearts or pay through the nose to sustain the state's precious programs. But just like at a coffee shop or restaurant, how you choose depends on the presentation.

Just as George Orwell's big government convinced the proletariat that ever-present intrusion was good in his novel, “1984,” the state's Democrats have succeeded in convincing us that ever-increasing taxes are a good idea for our current economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The message lost in this debate is that the commonwealth has nearly $2 billion in reserves and other revenue streams. The Republican plan we offered would have restored the dramatic cuts in education and human services presented by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran without raising any taxes.

That is the false choice the Democrats have offered: either increase taxes or cut critical services. But the government is not undertaxing people, it is overspending. The truth of the matter is that we can preserve the entirety of the budget at last year's historically high levels without raising a single tax. But if people discover that well-hidden fact, the real choice will be presented in November -- and incumbent Democrats can't have that.

The real choice will be at the ballot box, when our commonwealth's citizenry remembers the 75-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase, a freeze on the voter-approved tax cut scheduled to go into effect, the retroactive capital gains tax increase, the lowering of the personal exemption from $4,400 to $3,300, and the overturning of the charitable deduction. What's next, a new tax on coffee?

Ironically, I was recently intrigued to learn that the “Box of Joe” from Dunkin' Donuts serves as an invaluable political barometer, by citing little-known historical anecdotes that have shaped our entire nation.

According to one of the finest coffee producers in the world, the reason Americans drink coffee dates back to the Boston Tea Party, when the British overlords taxed our preferred beverage until we, as a people, became fed up. We turned to coffee to demonstrate our independence, and now the entire country has turned a protest drink into one of the vertebra of our entrepreneurial economy.

More than 200 years have passed since the Boston Tea Party, but unfortunately, the working class has a new set of overlords -- the Democratic leadership in our state. The only difference between our former overlords and our current ones is that the appetite for overtaxation has grown commensurate with the amount of coffee we, as Americans, drink.

These new overlords are your Democratic representatives in state government who voted for the largest dollar-for-dollar tax increase in Massachusetts history. The terrible irony is that just when we succeeded in stripping the commonwealth of its “Taxachusetts” label, with Republican administrations signing more than 40 tax cuts into law and voter approval of the tax-cut question, the Democrat-controlled Legislature dug its heels in.

During the last decade, we dropped from the fifth most heavily taxed state per capita to -- gasp! -- the sixth most heavily taxed, until Finneran and his merry troops opted to cut our pay by raising taxes. Now, we're turning around and reclaiming our former label of Taxachusetts -- and the biggest benefactor will be New Hampshire's border coffee shops.

State Rep. George N. Peterson Jr., R-Grafton, a former small business owner, represents the 9th Worcester District and is the House Republican Whip.

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The Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Sunday, May 5, 2002

A Telegram & Gazette editorial
Big spenders

In a rare display of unfettered jubilation, the usually reserved House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran gushed on and on Thursday night about how proud he was of lawmakers for passing an omnibus tax-increase package by an “astounding” veto-proof margin of 131-24.

It certainly was quite an evening's work.

The House summarily nullified two measures enacted by referendum: the rollback of the “temporary” income tax increase and the deduction for charitable donations. It doubled the cigarette tax to $1.51 a pack, boosted taxes on capital gains -- effectively tapping into the retirement nest eggs of hundreds of thousands of residents -- and slashed the personal income tax exemption from $4,400 to $3,300 for single filers.

To the typical wage earner, the tax hikes are the equivalent of a pay cut of several hundred dollars a year.

As Massachusetts taxpayers have come to expect, House leaders were less than forthright about the “revenue enhancement” plan. According to the Department of Revenue, the $1 billion tax hike they touted is actually a $1.4 billion tax hike.

House insiders apparently were aware the taxes would generate far more revenue than advertised. Even before the vote, lawmakers filed budget amendments totaling several billion dollars in new spending for pet projects.

The most disturbing aspect of the budget sham is that a number of non-tax alternatives -- such as Gov. Jane M. Swift's proposal to bring Massachusetts' generous lottery payouts into line with those in other states -- were largely ignored during months of closed-door budget discussions, as was a no-tax budget blueprint offered by Republican lawmakers.

Barring corrective action by the Senate, the progress this state has made in erasing the “Taxachusetts” label will be wiped out -- with the working families Finneran & Co. pretend to champion taking the brunt.

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