OUR VIEW: A taxing situation
What's in a name? Plenty if the name is "temporary" and the
thing named is a tax.
Ten years ago, the state of Massachusetts imposed what it called a
"temporary" increase in the state income tax. The increase brought the tax rate
to 5.95 percent.
The temporary tax increase is still in force, hence our dislike for
the term "temporary" in this context.
Admittedly, we live in a time when the English language is more
elastic than ever before. Sadly, this elasticity most often stretches itself not to
clarity but to phrases that conceal rather than reveal.
Signs are "signage," firing people is
"downsizing," to mention something is to "reference" it and tax
increases are "temporary."
We know well that taxes are necessary and not a necessary evil,
either. Tax money provides the wherewithal to educate our children, pave our roads,
deliver our drinking water, pay our police and provide all the municipal services and
government amenities to which we are accustomed. We use, indeed we demand, these services,
so we cannot complain much when we receive the bill.
Still, we can, and will, complain when a tax increase of a decade's
duration is foisted on us as a temporary measure.
To be fair, perhaps some of the lawmakers who passed the tax increase
did indeed believe it would be temporary. The point is that the tax increase was quite
clearly not a temporary thing and few did anything over the past 10 years to address its
status. If lawmakers wanted to call a tax increase "temporary," they should have
been careful to see that the increase did not remain in force for a decade.
If the tax increase was meant to be permanent, then we should have
been told, either at the time of the original increase or at some time before the 10-year
anniversary. Little wonder, then, that the next time legislators ask for a
"temporary" anything, they will be greeted with skepticism from the public.
Gov. Paul Cellucci has joined others this year in calling for an
income tax rollback, although opponents claim the cut would hurt the state, particularly
public schools which have received some of the additional tax revenue and set the state up
for the same fiscal crisis that prompted the original tax hike.
Taxpayers are told temporary tax hikes are necessary to get
government through the duration of tough economic times. Given our booming economy, if
legislators don't at least examine a rollback, they will be underscoring even more the
fact that there is apparently no such thing as a temporary tax increase.
Many things are required (or at least asked) of those who would do
the business of the people. Honesty is perhaps the first of these things and it is not
honest to disguise a permanent wolf in temporary sheep's clothing.