Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Wednesday, July 28, 1999

It's sure nice to win one every now and then isn't it!

Yesterday, when I received a call from Boston Herald Statehouse reporter Ellen Silberman, I was asked how it felt to be on Senate President Tom Birmingham's side of an issue. I responded that she was asking the wrong question or the wrong person.

"You should be asking the senate president how it feels to be on CLT's side for a change," I replied, "because this has been our position since our 1989 lawsuit challenged fee increases."

So apparently she did.

I faxed her another copy of our July 12th memo to the Legislature.

Again, representing the taxpayers of Massachusetts, CLT rode to the rescue and saved Bay State motorists an estimated $70-$100 million of additional revenue each and every year.

Just add that to what CLT saves you and other motorists every year on your auto excise tax alone (reduced from $65 to $25 for every $1,000 of assessed value), thanks to Prop 2 1/2!

Can you afford not to support CLT and keep it working for you?

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Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, July 28, 1999

Senate prez KOs Registry fee hikes
by Ellen J. Silberman

Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham yesterday torpedoed a House plan to raise motorists' fees by as much as $100 million a year.

"These fees hit just about everyone," Birmingham said, noting that the fees for a compact car were the same as those for a limousine.

And "given how strong the economy is I just don't think we need to resort to raising the fees this year," the Senate president added.

Birmingham's opposition all-but guarantees motorists won't be walloped this year with massive increases in the fees they pay to renew their car registrations - which is now free - or update their drivers' licenses.

Gov. Paul Cellucci, who had been expected to veto any increase in Registry of Motor Vehicles fees, praised Birmingham for blocking the legislation.

"We're glad someone in the Legislature saw the light and realized it was a ridiculous notion to raise fees at the Registry," Cellucci spokesman Jason Kauppi said.

House leaders - looking for cash to fund road and bridge projects that are being neglected to pay for the Big Dig - were pushing to reinstate Registry fees canceled by then-Gov. William F. Weld during his 1996 Senate campaign.

The House plan would have required car owners to pay $30 every two years to renew their registration and voided a plan to drop drivers' license renewal fees from $33.75 to $2 in 2001. The House hikes would have cost motorists $70 million to $100 million a year.

House leaders had planned to put the fee hikes into a massive transportation bond bill, but senators blocked that idea. On Friday the Legislature's Transportation Committee approved a trimmed-down bond bill stripped of the fee hikes.

Neither House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) nor his Transportation Chairman Joseph C. Sullivan (D-Braintree) - both of whom were pushing for the fee hike - returned calls seeking comment.

Birmingham said he couldn't sign off on increasing Registry fees when the state was flush with cash and the lawmakers were considering massive tax cuts.

He described the Senate as "almost universally hostile to the notion of raising (Registry) fees."

Both the House and Senate approved similar fee hikes last year, but leaders decided not to ask their members to override Cellucci's veto in an election year. Political observers had expected the Senate to get on board again. And in the non-election year, lawmakers were expected to bite the bullet and override Cellucci's veto.

But sources said Birmingham didn't want a replay of the politics surrounding Boston's new convention center. In 1997, Cellucci rejected the convention center bill because it included tax hikes. Cellucci's rejection forced lawmakers to twice vote for the unpopular hotel tax used to fund the building. But last month, when it was time to break ground for the $700 million project, Cellucci was front and center wielding the sledgehammer.

Birmingham is tired of "the politics of convenience," said a Senate source. "Cellucci lobs the grenades and then spends the money."

Birmingham's stand against the fee hikes is likely to be popular with voters if, as expected, he runs for governor in 2002. But it could draw criticism from municipal officials and labor unions who were counting on the infusion of cash to fund road and bridge projects that have been neglected while the state focuses its transportation dollars on the $11 billion Central Artery-tunnel project.

The Senate president, a Chelsea Democrat, said he was confident the Cellucci administration could find the money for road projects without the Legislature raising fees.

"That's part of the governor's job," Birmingham said. Since Cellucci planned to veto the fee hike he should be able "to manage within the necessary implications of that decision."

Birmingham's opposition to the fee hike puts him on the same side of the issue as Barbara Anderson and the Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, which had been planning to sue the state to block the fee increase.

"Welcome aboard, Tom," said Chip Ford, director of operations for CLT&G, a group that has often criticized Birmingham for his claim that the state can't afford to drop the income tax rate from 5.95 to 5 percent.

Birmingham said it was "novel" to be on the same side of an issue with Anderson. But added, "I don't plan on making a habit of it."

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