MARCH 31, 1999 ... EJB ... Charging that lawmakers are pulling a
"rope-a-dope," Gov. Paul Cellucci crashed a Taxation Committee hearing this
afternoon, threatening to personally lead a ballot petition drive to roll back the income
tax rate if the Legislature fails to pass his plan.
Numerous tax-related bills were scheduled for the hearing, including
one sponsored by Citizens for Limited Taxation to roll back
the income tax rate from 5.95 to 5 percent.
Cellucci's nearly identical proposal, however, was scheduled for
hearing on June 16, a time when the House and Senate negotiators will likely be wrapping
up action on a $20.5 billion fiscal 2000 budget. The issue is contentious in part because
the tax cut, once fully implemented, is worth $1.4 billion.
A forceful but composed Cellucci today said he feels Democratic
legislators are intentionally ignoring one of his top priorities. "I just wanted to
stop down and say I know a rope-a-dope when I see one," he told the committee.
"I just wanted to stop by today to put the members of this committee on notice, and
all of the members of the House and the Senate ... that I am not going to take no from
this committee or from the state Legislature."
The governor hammered home his contention that the Legislature
promised the 1990 rate hike was only temporary to deal with an emergency situation.
"The fiscal crisis has been over for a long time, and this is a promise that should
be kept. So it's very simple. If you're not willing to do it and the Legislature's not
willing to do it, I will lead the initiative petition drive. Either the Legislature does
it, or the voters do it, and I just wanted to stop by and let you know that."
Committee co-chairman Rep. John
Rogers (D-Norwood), however, said he researched the issue of whether the Legislature
made that commitment, and said, "the promise never existed." And he added,
"Even if there was, it wasn't made by this Legislature," Rogers said. "We
cannot be held responsible for the acts of the Legislature ten years ago, in as much as
you cannot be held responsible for the acts of the governor ten years ago, which was
Cellucci immediately fired back, "I was in the Legislature in
1990. You weren't. I know what was said because I heard it with my own ears. I agree you
can't bind a future Legislature ... but there ought to be some institutional
Committee member Rep. Philip
Travis (D-Rehoboth) sided with Cellucci, saying he, too, was in the Legislature in
1990 and heard the promise made. "I don't want to hear revisionist history,"
Travis said. "Your (Cellucci's) observation is absolutely correct. Every House and
Senate member knew that tax was temporary."
Co-chairman Sen. Marian
Walsh (D-West Roxbury) put a stop to the discussion of what was meant by
"promise," saying, "I am not that interested in the discussion of our
memories. The whole promise discussion is unhelpful." Walsh was a member of the House
in 1990 and voted against the tax hike, but now seems to be leaning against repealing it.
"Consistency does not always mean conviction or courage,"
Walsh said. "Many of us can alter our positions on many things because of ... growth,
maturity, understanding, or for other reasons. The ebb and flow and evolution of public
policy I think is acceptable."
Of Cellucci's charge that the committee was playing scheduling games
in order to put off dealing with his proposal, Walsh said, "I don't know what to make
of the suggestion that we're not dealing with you in good faith." She indicated there
had been some sort of bureaucratic snafu, and said, "We will get to the bottom of
this. I can assure you ... there were no games."
After Cellucci left, a visibly angry Rogers vented on Rep. Ron Gauch
(R-Shrewsbury), who also spoke in support of the rollback. "If this promise was
important to people, it should have been written down, should have been put into the
law," Rogers said, his voice noticeably raised. "It was made behind closed
doors, in the typical Beacon Hill fashion of the 1980s."
As Gauch sat quietly, Travis fired back at his chairman, "Please
don't tell me my memory lapses or I don't have a correct memory," Travis said.
"It (the tax hike) could never have been sold to the populace of this state unless it
was a temporary increase for an emergency situation. It was passed as a temporary
Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), lead sponsor of CLT's rollback bill, said lawmakers have a moral obligation to live
up to the "representations" of their predecessors. "The Legislature may not
be legally bound by the promises of past legislatures, but I do think we are morally bound
to live up to the representation ... that this was something of a temporary nature,"
Cellucci's surprise appearance derailed the committee's scheduled
business to some extent, as a succession of legislators who originally showed up to
testify on other bills instead addressed the issue of the income tax.
The governor's contention that a promise was made sounds like a
"sound-bite tax pledge," said Rep. John
Slattery (D-Peabody), who added, "Well, I didn't make that promise. We can't go
back to that promise because it's a whole different time."
With the funding crisis over the Big Dig and all the talk about
education, Slattery said, the Legislature has other priorities now. "He (Cellucci)
apparently doesn't care about that and doesn't want to hear about it. What the governor
has proposed is just fiscally irresponsible."
Following on Slattery's heels, Rep. Mary
Rogeness (R-Longmeadow) said she "regrets" what she was hearing about
promises being moot because they weren't officially recorded.
"To say the promise wasn't written down and so it doesn't count
-- I think we're all harmed if that statement gains credence and becomes broadcast,"
The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 1, 1999
Page One: TURMOIL OVER TAXES
Cellucci would put rate cut on ballot
By Scot Lehigh
Frustrated in his fight to win a large income-tax reduction, Governor
Paul Cellucci yesterday threatened to take the tax-cut tussle outside.
Outside the building, that is.
Crashing a Taxation Committee hearing yesterday, an animated Cellucci
accused lawmakers of trying to "rope-a-dope" him by delaying action on his tax
proposal and warned that if they don't cut the income tax rate back to 5 percent by
summer, he will lead a petition drive to put that proposal on the ballot in 2000. It was a
message the governor delivered in no uncertain terms.
Cellucci began by noting he had filed his own tax-cut legislation on
Jan. 11 to roll back the rate to 5 percent from 5.95, only to learn the Taxation Committee
had not scheduled a hearing on it until June 16, by which time key spending decisions will
mostly be made.
Although Senate committee chairwoman Marian Walsh, a West Roxbury
Democrat, denied any scheduling skulduggery was afoot, Cellucci was having none of that.
"I know a rope-a-dope when I see one," lectured the
governor, who declared he wanted to put the Legislature on notice that when it comes to
the income-tax cut, he won't take no for an answer.
"It's very simple," the governor warned, wagging his
finger. "If the Legislature is not willing to do it, I will lead the initiative
petition drive. We will get the signatures, we will put this question on the ballot, and
the voters will keep the promise that was made in this building in 1990."
Cellucci contends that when lawmakers raised the income tax to 5.95
percent a decade ago, there was a promise to cut the rate back to 5 percent as soon as an
improved economy allowed; leading Democrats dispute that recollection.
To put an income tax cut measure on the ballot, Cellucci and the
Republicans would need to collect a total of 66,617 signatures in two periods totaling
about 3 1/2 months. John Brockelman,
executive director of the Republican
State Committee, said he could put as many as 5,000 activists in the field to gather
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham called Cellucci's strategy
"a shrewd political move," but warned that the income tax cut -- which would
cost $1.4 billion at the end of its three-year phase-in -- would imperil bipartisan
priorities. "It is going to jeopardize our full implementation of education reform,
our expansion of health care, our improvements of public safety -- the list goes on and on
and on," Birmingham said. "Unfortunately, I think it is a Pyrrhic victory for
the people of the Commonwealth."
By way of illustration, Birmingham said that just to make room for
the $225 million the tax cut would cost state coffers in year one, Cellucci's fiscal 2000
budget would divert $90 million in education money and $110 million intended to expand
health care coverage for the uninsured.
But though the Senate president said he didn't detect any huge public
hunger for another large tax cut, he conceded that if Cellucci succeeds in putting the
rollback on the statewide ballot, it would probably pass.
"I'm not naive about that," he said.
Responding to Birmingham's warnings that the state can't afford the
tax cut, Cellucci said he and Governor William F. Weld had met the same objections
whenever they proposed tax cuts in the past.
"But we have proven them wrong," he said. "How many
times do we have to do it?"
Cellucci's announcement heartened Barbara
Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation & Government, whose
petition drive to cut the income tax last year failed when a challenge by the Massachusetts Teachers
Association disqualified enough signatures to knock it off the ballot.
"If the governor is helping us get
signatures, I don't have any doubt at all that we can get at least 80,000, which we will
need to withstand challenges," Anderson said.
According to the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, it
would cut the tax bill of a family of four earning $75,000 by $600; a single parent with
one child and an income of $35,000 would save $235; and a single wage-earner making
$25,000 would pay $185 less in state income tax.
Last year, the Legislature cut taxes by more than $1 billion, but
that reduction did not come through an actual rate cut; the largest single component was
doubling the tax exemption taxpayers can claim.
Cutting taxes that way is considered more progressive because it
offers the same tax break regardless of the amount an individual paid in taxes; an
outright rate cut, on the other hand, reduces a person's tax bill in direct proportion to
the amount he or she pays.
The Boston Herald
Thursday, April 1, 1999
Lawmakers call tax bluff:
Pols tell Cellucci voters don't want cut
by Ellen J. Silberman
Lawmakers yesterday dared Gov. Paul Cellucci to take his $1.2 billion
tax cut to the voters, saying his threats wouldn't influence them.
"This has been taken to the voters already and they said no to
it," state Rep. John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), co-chair of the Taxation Committee, said
referring to voters' 1990 rejection of a ballot question pushing a massive tax rollback.
The Herald reported yesterday that Cellucci plans to use his
political muscle to launch a referendum drive to slash the state's income tax by $1.2
"It's very simple. Either the Legislature does it or the voters
(will) do it," an animated Cellucci told the Taxation Comittee yesterday.
Cellucci said he was angry that the committee had postponed action on
his plan to cut the income tax rate from 5.95 to 5 percent until the summer, after both
the House and Senate will have written their budgets.
"I know a rope-a-dope when I see one," Cellucci said.
Cellucci said he hoped the threat of a referendum in 2000 would force
lawmakers to approve his plan. In 1998, the reluctant Legislature slashed the tax on
unearned income after corporations put the question on the ballot.
Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea) said he didn't
expect a Cellucci-backed referendum to scare his members.
"It'll be a factor (but) I don't think it'll force our hand in
the Senate," Birmingham said.
Rogers said the House was likely to revisit its $350 million plan to
cut the income tax rate to 5.7 percent. The Legislature rejected the rate cut last year
and instead saved taxpayers more than $1 billion by increasing personal exemptions.
Birmingham, who expects the Senate to back his plan for a limited $50 million tax cut
targeted at senior citizens, dismissed Cellucci's plan as a gimmick.
"I give him high marks politically but low marks
policy-wise," Birmingham said.
But politics is part of the point. A source close to Cellucci said
the state GOP plans to use the ballot question to unify Republican legislative candidates
around a winning issue in the year 2000.
"There's nothing like tax cuts to get the Republican grassroots
fired up," the source said.
The state GOP also believes the year-old ballot initiative process
will offer an excellent opportunity to keep its 5,000-strong field operation in shape for
Last year, Citizens for Limited Taxation and
Government tried -- and failed -- to get a tax cut on initiative on the ballot.
Co-chairwoman Barbara Anderson said she was
thrilled to have Cellucci's help and cheered him as he left the hearing room.
But the Massachusetts Teachers Association,
which last year got the court to dump Anderson's ballot question, said they would fight
tooth and nail again if necessary.
"We'll look at the arenas that (the tax cut is) being played out
in and we'll do whatever is necessary to insure that revenues are available to fund
quality public school education," said Jo Blum, MTA's director of government
The right tax strategy
A Boston Herald Editorial
Thursday, April 1, 1999
When it comes to cutting taxes Gov. Paul Cellucci has always gotten
the policy right -- lower tax rates are better for individuals and for the state's
economy. Now he seems to have gotten the strategy right too.
With overwhelming majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate,
it's difficult -- well, OK, next to impossible -- to get real income tax relief through
the Legislature. And as long as the tax dollars come flowing in, those legislators will
find new ways to spend them - new programs, expanded programs and new construction.
And, to be perfectly honest, even a good Republican like Cellucci is
not immune to such temptation -- witness the governor's own proposed $20.4 billon budget
for the fiscal year 2000.
But the governor has promised to cut the state income tax from 5.95
percent to 5 percent and with the prospect for doing that on Beacon Hill looking grim, he
has vowed to do the sensible thing and take his case directly to the people. He'll put the
force of his own political organization behind a tax roll-back referendum in an effort to
get it on the ballot for the 2000 election.
Cellucci knows well there's nothing quite so persuasive to
legislators as the inevitability of a voter-approved tax cut. The strategy worked rather
well last year when the Legislature cut the tax on dividend and interest income in advance
of a similar question making it to the November ballot.
This looks like a win-win situation for Cellucci and the taxpayers.