Limited Taxation
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CLT Update
Thursday, December 2, 1999

Parting shots from yesterday's petition delivery
by Chip Ford

Our petition delivery was scheduled and announced for 1:45 yesterday afternoon. House Speaker Thomas Finneran abruptly decided to hold a "press availability" at 1:30 outside his office, which is only a few steps from the governor's office. He wanted to respond to us -- before we'd even said anything! Responding to his sheep in the House before they can speak apparently has become ingrained.

A staffer in the Secretary of State's office confided to me that the teachers union already has inquired about copying all of our petitions in preparation for a possible challenge. He called them crazy and told them that we had far too many signatures this time, that they'd be wasting both their time and his staff's. He didn't think he'd dissuaded them. Hey, it's their members dues they'll be squandering: less they'll have to spend on the ballot campaign against us. Unless they tag their members with another dues increase!

"It will be very difficult to meet our commitment to education reform and simply sustain programs in other areas while cutting this much this rapidly. There's absolutely no margin for error," said Michael Widmer, executive director of the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Now I can understand the insatiable self-interest and outright greed of the teachers union and the rest of the Gimme Lobby, but when is truth in advertising going to be enforced against a group that incessantly resists reducing taxes yet sells itself as a"taxpayers" advocate?

"You owe us big-time," I told him in the corridor outside the Secretary of State's office, after we'd wheeled in our petitions. "We've provided you with long-term job security."

"Yes, and I thank you for that," Jim St. George of TEAM (Tax Everything And More) replied with a sneer, eyeing the media horde that had gathered for the presentation of our petitions by Gov. Cellucci, Lt. Gov. Swift and Barbara Anderson.

"When can we expect your contribution check?" I asked.

"Don't hold your breath," he replied as he ambled off to spew his spin.

State House News Service
Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Ballot Question Craziness Erupts,
Most File Plenty of Signatures

By Elisabeth J. Beardsley

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 1, 1999 ... A near-record number of major initiative petitions surmounted the first hurdle in the race to the 2000 ballot today, with nine campaigns submitting more than the requisite 57,100 certified signatures.

Frenetic activity swept through the McCormack state office building as dozens of activists hauled boxes and 'barrows of signed petitions to Secretary of State William Galvin's office on the 17th floor. The returns are unofficial until Galvin tallies them, which will take several weeks.

Gov. Paul Cellucci and Lt. Gov. Jane Swift led the charge, each pushing a red wheelbarrow filled with petitions supporting a rollback of the income rate to 5 percent. Once fully phased in after three years, the cut would cost the state $1.4 billion per year in revenues. It would save an extra $500 or so per year for the average family of four, and about $250 per year for individuals.

Flanked by Citizens For Limited Taxation head Barbara Anderson and a handful of Republican lawmakers, Cellucci said the campaign workers collected 150,000 raw signatures, about 123,000 of which were certified by town clerks. The governor said the tax cut is necessary to preserve the humming economy and to force fiscal restraint upon a reluctant Legislature.

"They're incapable of fiscal restraint," Cellucci said of the Legislature. "If they see money, they spend it. They can't help themselves."

House Speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Mattapan), who called a press availability to comment on the initiatives, said the Legislature has achieved a "responsible middle" through a budget provision reducing the income tax rate to 5.75 percent from the current 5.95 percent. The speaker advocates a year-by-year, wait-and-see approach to further income tax rate cuts.

"The strength of our economy is a relevant consideration," Finneran said. "To try to fly blindly and predict the strength of the economy or the weakness of the economy three and four years down the road is a very, very risky business."

But the tax cuts didn't stop there today. After the 1998 "Free the Pike" campaign was bounced off the ballot when a court ruled it would jeopardize Big Dig funding, activists fed up with paying tolls regrouped and this year filed the "Commuter Tax Relief" initiative. The ballot question would give commuters a 100 percent tax credit for all tolls and auto excise taxes.

Campaign coordinator Harold Hubschman said anti-toll activists collected about 105,000 raw signatures, of which about 72,000 were certified. He said he expects no legal challenges this time around because "it's a tax cut just like any other tax cut."

Both tax cut questions will likely face challenges from the state's teachers unions and the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts, which are expected to appeal the validity of some signatures to the state Ballot Law Commission. That's where the income tax rollback was defeated in 1998. Challenges must be filed by Dec. 31.

TEAM Executive Director James St. George said that between the tax cuts already in the pipeline and the pair of ballot questions, the state stands to lose $2.7 billion in revenues in 2003. "It is utterly irresponsible to suggest that tax cuts of this magnitude can be supported without dramatic cuts in education, transportation and other vital public services," he said. ...

The Boston Herald
Thursday, December 2, 1999

Ballot questions will offer voters $2.5B in tax cuts
by Ellen J. Silberman

Voters next fall will have the chance to cut their income taxes by $2.5 billion under three ballot questions filed with the secretary of state yesterday.

The largest savings -- $1.4 billion a year -- would come from a plan backed by Gov. Paul Cellucci that would roll back the income tax rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent by 2003.

"To the average family of four, it means $600 a year," Cellucci said after delivering two bright-red wheelbarrows filled with signed petitions to the secretary of state's office at 1 Ashburton Place.

"'Whether it's on hockey equipment, summer camp, going out to dinner a couple of extra times, it's money that I think the people of this state can spend better than the state government," he said.

All told, seven groups gathered enough signatures to give their initiatives a shot at a ballot spot in November 2000. Voters could cut their income taxes another $600 million a year by approving tax credits for highway tolls and automobile excise tax. They could trim another $200 million from their tax bills by creating a deduction for charitable giving.

Despite the appeal of tax cuts, Cellucci could have a fight on his hands. Both Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham (D-Chelsea) and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) called the huge tax breaks unwise.

"Who knows where our economy will be two or three or four years hence?" Finneran asked. "We think it's probably a little imprudent, bordering on irresponsible, to go pell-mell down a path that you don't know what the turns are or the other circumstances are."

Opponents of the cuts -- the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts -- are gearing up for a fight they've won before. Voters rejected a similar tax rollback in 1990.

If voters approve all three tax cuts, "they would be creating a fiscal crisis," Jim St. George of the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts, a liberal policy group, said.

Pointing to Cellucci's recent -- but rapidly overturned -- veto of $94 million in education spending, St. George predicted huge cuts in education, transportation and local aid.

"He's already made it clear he's willing to sacrifice children in school buildings for his beloved tax cuts," St. George said.

And the conservative Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation's executive director, Michael Widmer, said: "It will be very difficult to meet our commitment to education reform and simply sustain programs in other areas while cutting this much this rapidly. There's absolutely no margin for error."

The other questions heading toward the November ballot include a measure that would ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts; a law to guarantee Internet providers access to cable lines; a plan to use money seized in drug raids for drugtreatment; a proposal to create universal health care; and a crackdown on using pesticides in schools and day care centers.

A group seeking to put a constitutional amendment allowing public money to be used for parochial schools on the ballot in 2002 also gathered enough signatures to clear the first hurdle.

The Boston Globe
Thursday, December 2, 1999

'Titanic' comment sets an icy tone
Birmingham tweaks Cellucci over speech

By Michael Rezendes
Globe Staff

[ ... ]

Cellucci sparred with legislators on another matter yesterday after he joined with Citizens for Limited Taxation and Republican leaders in filing about 120,000 signatures on behalf of an initiative petition that would roll back the state income tax from 5.75 to 5 percent.

After delivering a red wheelbarrow of signatures to Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Cellucci said a direct appeal to voters is necessary because the Legislature "is incapable of fiscal restraint. If they see money, they spend it. They can't help themselves."

But Birmingham, a Chelsea Democrat, expressed grave doubts about the measure, which would cut state revenues by an estimated $1.4 billion. "It's premised on the notion that the good times are going to roll on forever, and I think that's a very risky fiscal proposition," he said.

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat, went out of his way to congratulate Cellucci for the "politcal achievement" of helping to gather more than twice the 57,100 certified signatures required to get a measure on the 2000 ballot.

But like Birmingham, he questioned Cellucci's proposed tax cut because of uncertainty over the state's economic future, even as he touted the Legislature's recent successful effort to reduce the state income tax from 5.95 to 5.75 percent.

"We think it's probably a little imprudent, bordering on irresponsible, to go pell-mell down a path on which you don't know where the turns are or what the circumstances are going to be," Finneran said.

Words of caution also came from Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who said the tax rollback plan, if approved with other tax-cutting petitions headed for the ballot, could cut the state's $15 billion tax base by $2.2 billion.

Widmer said that if all of the revenue-cutting petitions are approved it "would put enormous pressure on the state budget."

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