Opponents of Question 4 call themselves the "Campaign for Massachusetts's Future."
But in order to plan properly for the future, it is important to learn from the Commonwealth's
past. In 1989 the income tax rate that would be rolled back by Question 4 was increased as a
A Boston Globe headline on July 4, 1989, read, "Dems eyeing temporary state income tax
hike." Three days later, the Globe reported that "the Massachusetts House swallowed the T
word last night, voting 82-74 to give initial approval to a temporary 15 percent increase in the
state income tax to deal with the fiscal 1989 deficit."
When Governor Michael Dukakis signed that tax hike, Globe readers were informed that "a
family earning $20,000 a year would pay an additional $160 over the 18-month life of the tax
Eleven years later, that family has paid more than $1,000 more from that "temporary" increase.
The next year the Legislature increased the rate again, to 6.25 percent, until 1992. In 1991, a
coalition lobbied to keep the rate at 6.25 percent and increase the state sales tax from 5 to 6
percent. The effort failed, but that coalition is now the Campaign for Massachusetts's Future.
The grass-roots ballot campaign to roll back the rate to 5 percent over three years is called "A
Promise to Keep: 5 percent."
Political philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that "promises are the uniquely human way of
ordering the future, making it predictable and reliable to the extent that this is humanly
Question 4 lets Massachusetts "order its future" by keeping the promise that the 1989 tax hike
would be temporary.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation had a plan to roll the rate back to 5 percent over
several years depending on the state of the economy. It passed the House, but the Senate
made it clear that it will not do this any time in the foreseeable future.
Both the foundation and House Speaker Thomas Finneran have warned that state spending
that continues to grow too fast during good economic times could lead to another fiscal crisis
should the economy take a downturn.
The 11-year-old "temporary" income tax hike helps fuel state spending at more than double the
rate of inflation. Though it took 207 years for the Massachusetts state budget to reach $10
billion, the budget has doubled since that 1987 milestone.
The Commonwealth expects another billion-dollar surplus this year, much of which could
disappear during a typical all-night feeding frenzy during the annual budget debate.
In addition to this spending, state debt is high, but Governor Cellucci's proposal to pay down
some of it was rejected by the Legislature last summer. Opponents of Question 4 now urge
reduction of the debt as an alternative to the income tax rollback. However, they missed their
opportunity to place this alternative on the November ballot.
If taxpayers can't trust the Legislature to keep a promise on taxes, why should they believe that
the Commonwealth's future might contain early debt reduction?
Politicians who refuse to keep a simple promise cannot be trusted to deal responsibly with
important issues like education and health care.
Legislators who are spending almost $4 billion a year on education are teaching the children, by
example, that it isn't necessary to keep one's word.
A recent budget was four months late because legislators could not, among other things, decide
how to spend another $8 billion that is pouring into the Commonwealth from the tobacco
settlement. Certainly some of the crisis in health care could be addressed with intelligent use of
that health-related windfall.
With an income tax rollback, all citizens will benefit proportionately to the share of the
"temporary" tax they have been paying for 11 years.
Because the so-called unearned income tax rate is now hitched to the wage and salary rate,
senior citizens will benefit, too. Wealthier citizens can give their share to charity if they want,
while other taxpayers save, invest, pay fuel hikes, or pay down their own debt.
With a yes vote on Question 4, the future of Massachusetts will be a little more predictable and
reliable for the taxpayers and the economy as a promise made by government is finally kept.
Barbara Anderson is director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.