A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation


The Eagle-Tribune
Lawrence, Mass.
Thursday, November 2, 2000

Greed is good, if you're the government 
By Taylor Armerding 
Eagle-Tribune Writer

Everybody says it's supposed to be about "the issues." In this new millennium of alleged political civility, we're supposed to stay away from "negative personal attacks." But when it comes to ballot referendum Question 4, the proposed rollback of the state income tax from 5.75 to 5 percent, it is both negative and personal.

Not that opponents of the rollback are naming names. But listen to the rhetoric, and it is clear that TEAM, the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts, is on the same "populist" page as Vice President Al Gore. The rollback, TEAM says, would largely go to "the wealthy." And, as TEAM executive director Jim St. George told a small group in Lawrence this past summer, the wealthy don't need it.

Press him a bit further, and Mr. St. George will admit that what he also means is that the wealthy don't deserve it. If you are wealthy (by TEAM's definition, of course), and you want state government to keep the promise it made when it imposed an 18-month "temporary" tax increase 11 years ago, then you are just plain greedy.

You don't want to "invest" in education. You don't want to pay off an alarming level of debt, as any prudent fiscal manager would. You don't want the poor to have adequate health care. You want "significant cuts in services," and to destroy the fiscal stability of the state.

In other words, you want to take money that belongs to others -- others who are more deserving of it than you are. You have no sense of community. You are just plain greedy.

As I said, this is negative, it's personal and it's an attack.

Let's not even try to address the Alice-in-Wonderland logic of arguing that money you earned actually belongs to somebody else. Let's talk about greed, since that is what the tax advocates have put on the table.

In fiscal year 1992, total state spending was about $13.7 billion. In the year 2000, it was $22.1 billion, an increase of about 61 percent, or an average of close to 8 percent per year, in an era when inflation was less than half that.

In 1993, the first year of Education Reform, local aid for education was about $1.3 billion. Now it is almost $3 billion, an increase of more than 100 percent. Total state spending for education has rocketed by a similar amount, from about $1.8 billion to nearly $4 billion. And earlier this year, the Legislature approved a law, backed by many rollback opponents, that will give public school teachers bigger pensions for retiring earlier. So much for demanding more money "for the children." This is about paying adults more for not working.

Nobody, including our Republican governor, is talking about cutting spending. All they're saying is that it would be prudent to slow down the headlong rate of increases in spending. In other words, even with the rollback, those of you who pay taxes will pay more and more every year to run the state. Add to that the tobacco settlement, which will bring about $245 million into the state each year for the next 20 years.

Even all this bleating about how the money could be better used to pay down some of the state's debt rings hollow. Gov. Cellucci tried to get the Legislature to pay off about $150 million of the higher-interest debt this past year, and got rejected.

But rollback opponents continue to argue that putting the brakes on taxes and spending is "a lost opportunity." That what we really need is for government spending to continue to increase out of all proportion to the economy. That, "More Is Never Enough."

Worse, while claiming to want to "stick to the issues," their campaign is all about breeding resentment, suggesting that allowing those who pay state taxes to keep less than 1 percent more of what they earned amounts to stealing from others.

It seems appropriate to ask, in the face of all that: Who is really being greedy?

Taylor Armerding's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in The Eagle-Tribune.

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml