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CLT Update
Sunday, August 8, 1999

The Eagle-Tribune

Lawrence, MA
Sunday, August 8, 1999

'Surplus' was our money


The state has decided how to spend $600 million in tax money it overcollected.


The money should have been returned to those who earned it.

In figuring out how much to tax the hard-working people of Massachusetts last year (not to mention the people of New Hampshire whose hard work happens to take place in Massachusetts) the geniuses who run the state missed the mark.

They sort of collected too much from the taxpayers.

Just a little ... you know, about $600 million.

A passing familiarity with simple math, basic shopkeeping practices and The Ten Commandments suggests that the $600 million would be winging its way back to those taxpayers as we write.

But guess again.

This is Massachusetts, where lawmakers view a $600 million overcharge against the state residents as adrenaline-pumping serendipity. It is a massive overdose of something our politicians just can't resist: Pork.

Our lawmakers rushed to it like sharks rush to blood in the water.

They have been wildly figuring out how to spend it.

So wrapped up in this feeding frenzy have they been that the state budget that was supposed to start guiding Massachusetts on July 1 has been cast aside, replaced by interim, 30-day documents.

Finally the deed is done, the money is spent.

Our Merrimack Valley delegation is boasting that $8.9 million of the loot will be spent in our back yards.

While they may have hit the mark on raking in the pork, they missed the point.

The surplus money wasn't theirs to spend. It was their simple duty to send it back to us, the taxpayers who earned it.

It was, after all, an accident that it was collected in the first place. It wasn't needed to run the government.

Our state lawmakers are by no means alone in their misunderstanding of this simple concept. Republicans in Washington have passed a budget which returns federal surplus tax revenues to the taxpayers through a tax cut. But President Clinton doesn't get it, either: He plans to veto the measure.

All this money -- state and federal -- belongs back in our pockets. If there are needs in the Merrimack Valley and elsewhere, they should be part of a proper budget process, not an end-of-year free-for-all. Politicians are wrong to assume they are free to spend such surpluses.

If you hand the corner grocery clerk a $10 bill for a $1.89 jug of milk, you get $8.11 in change. But in the Government Corner Variety the clerk keeps the change, maybe offers you a candy bar, and tells you what a great job he's doing.

It's just plain wrong.

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