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Taxachusetts Revisited


Here in the Bay State we’re on the cusp of a gubernatorial election for the seat being vacated by Republican Mitt Romney. Since Romney’s lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, is the heir apparent to the GOP nomination, the real action leading up to Tuesday’s primary is happening among three Democrats, Attorney General Tom Reilly, lawyer Deval Patrick, and businessman Chris Gabrieli.

One issue that has emerged in the two debates between this troika of candidates is Massachusetts’ state income tax. In 2000, Mass voters told the state legislature to roll the income tax back from 5.85% to 5%, but the process stalled along with the economy in 2002, and the legislature froze the reduction at 5.3%, where it remains today.

As they are wont to do here in Massachusetts, the legislature decided to ignore the will and mandate of the People, arrogantly claiming it knows best and that the voters they honor with their service are a bunch of idiots. Beyond the bounds of political hubris, however, this discussion strikes at the heart of an issue that is destroying our country.

Deval Patrick, the race’s most compelling figure, made a statement in the first debate that got my hackles up. When asked about rolling back the tax rate, Patrick replied that such a move “is fiscally irresponsible right now. We can’t afford it. The tax to cut is the property tax, and we can’t cut the property tax if we don’t restore local aid. We can’t restore local aid if we roll back the income tax.”

On its face, Patrick’s argument is sound, but with a bit of critical thinking applied, his statement is dangerous. What he’s saying is that, if we reduce the income tax, we’re just going to have to recoup the revenue through a shift toward higher property tax. In other words, the solution to your problem is more government, and more government needs more tax revenue. Come to think of it, that’s the premise upon which most politicians act.

The problem is, hard as my elected representatives try to prove me wrong, more government is never the solution.

My question for Patrick (and all politicians) is, when will cutting the size of government ever be considered as a first option, or even just a viable option? Why do governments and politicians operate on the assumption that they have an inalienable right to my income? Why do supposed tax cuts never result in cuts in the size of state or federal bureaucracy?

In spite of a reputation as the party of lower taxes and limited government, the Republican Party in Massachusetts has not acquitted itself well. Since Bill Weld captured the Corner Office on Beacon Hill in 1990, only Republicans have held that post. Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and Mitt Romney have presided over the state for nearly 16 years, yet the state’s budget has risen from $10 billion in 1991 to $26 billion in 2006. That’s a 160 percent, $1 billion per year increase. Has the average income of Massachusetts residents risen 160 percent over the last ten years? Have our needs as a state risen 160 percent?

Why is it, then, that state government believes it has a right to grow government, and dependence on government, apace?

In the fantasy land known as Beacon Hill, money is plentiful, and the only challenge facing the assembled lawmakers there is to find new and creative ways to spend it all. When the economy stalls or recedes, businesses and households have no choice but to adjust budgets to accommodate for their adjusted income. Luckily for the state legislature it never has to worry about such inconveniences. It has a book full of checks and a ready source of wealth: Taxpayers like me.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 10:58 AM | Permalink

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