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CLT Update
Tuesday, January 26, 1999

The (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune
Sunday, January 24, 1999

It is time to keep the promise


Boston's Central Artery project threatens to draw money away from other projects, possibly even a plan to lower state income taxes.


The Legislature should not use the "Big Dig" to renege on its promise to lower the tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent.

Massachusetts taxpayers may see any hope they have for a state income tax cut this year tossed down the gaping hole that is Boston's "Big Dig" highway project.

A report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies how the state raises and spends money, said the burying of the Central Artery beneath Boston is drawing funds away from other projects across the state.

The state's massive borrowing for the $12 billion Central Artery, the largest public works project in the nation, will rob funds for new buildings, schools, roads, land and equipment in other communities.

The report also seemed intended to toss cold water on Gov. A. Paul Cellucci's proposal to lower the state's income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent.

The "Big Dig," as the artery project is known, is forcing the state to borrow billions of dollars, payments on which will come due in the next 10 years or so.

Some lawmakers, among them State Sen. James P. Jajuga, D-Methuen, and State Rep. Harriett L. Stanley, D-West Newbury, argue that the state's borrowing is a fiscal crisis waiting to happen. They say the debt problem must be addressed before cutting the income tax rate.

That is not true.

While both issues involved how public funds are used, they are entirely separate matters.

Long-term borrowing to pay for the Central Artery project is a concern. It will take careful planning to structure the debt so that it does not prompt a fiscal crisis in the future.

When legislators first raised the income tax to 5.95 percent, they promised taxpayers that the move was a "temporary" measure to deal with a past fiscal crisis. Instead, the higher rate has been in place for most of the last  20 years.

Gov. Cellucci is pressing the Legislature to keep that promise. But legislators now say they must keep our money because of the threat of a fiscal crisis down the road.

It seems the time will never be right for the Legislature to keep its promise to the taxpayers.

The shell game has gone on long enough. The Legislature should lower the tax rate to its "permanent" level of 5 percent now.

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