Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Thursday, July 15, 1999

What Editorials Around the State are Saying:

The Telegram-Gazette
Worcester, MA
Thursday, July 15, 1999

Unhappy birthday
A doleful milestone for "temporary" tax hike

As lawmakers met behind closed doors this week to divvy up $20.8 billion in state spending -- up almost 7 percent from last year -- the 10th anniversary of Massachusetts' "temporary" income tax hike passed on Tuesday with a notable lack of fanfare.

If the connection occurred to the House and Senate conferees, they weren't letting on.

It was left to Citizens for Limited Taxation & Government, the indefatigable advocacy group for fiscal restraint, to mark the occasion with a mock Statehouse party, complete with an "unhappy birthday" cake.

The Legislature raised the 5 percent state income tax in 1989, reluctantly, to cover operating deficits of more than $1 billion.

The red ink had accumulated in the twilight of the administration of Michael S. Dukakis, who had used Massachusetts as demonstration project for the expansionist vision of government propagated in his failed presidential campaign.

The debt was retired years ago, and more than $1 billion has built up in the rainy day fund. Yet the Dukakis legacy lives on in the Legislature's insistence to hang on to the "temporary" tax.

The House budget calls for a nominal reduction to 5.75 percent. Despite spending growth that is triple the inflation rate, the Senate offers only a smattering of small "targeted" tax cuts.

Gov. Paul Cellucci attended CLT's unhappy birthday party and renewed his pledge to spearhead a massive signature drive to place the income tax issue onto next year's state ballot.

In general, we are skeptical of government by initiative petition. Lawmaking is -- or should be -- primarily the Legislature's responsibility.

In the absence of legislative action, however, the people are given no other choice.

The Herald News
Fall River, MA
Thursday, July 15, 1999

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.

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