Don't tax me...
When one year ends, governments ring in the new with a budget debate and the age-old question of how are you going to pay for "frills" like police, fire, education and garbage pickup. When that new year brings in new leaders at the state and federal level, the political jockeying becomes fierce.
On the state level, Gov. Deval Patrick is facing the reality of campaign promises bumping up against fiscal realities. At the federal level, George Bush is trying to play offense with virtually no cards left in his hand.
Patrick's dilemma is challenging. Bush's posturing is as infuriating as it is laughable.
With estimates about the fiscal 2008 revenue picture as murky as Boston Harbor used to be, Patrick is scrambling to find a way to live up to three pledges -- increased local aid, more cops on the street and property tax relief. His suggestion, made to the Massachusetts Municipal Association -- allow more local options, like higher meals taxes.
While the idea may have brought smiles to the face of Boston Mayor-for-Life Tom Menino, it is an option is going over like a lead balloon with restaurant owners.
"If all the other tax rates for all other industries were fixed at 5 percent, it would be very unfair for the state to charge a premium for one particular industry," said John Nessel, president of Restaurant Resource Group, a Lexington financial management consulting firm. "That’s like a 60 percent premium over all other industries."And somewhat surprisingly, Patrick has also received push back on a call to make criminals pay a "safety fee" to finance his call for more police officers on the street.
Personally, I cringe now when I see my property tax bill and I am a frequent restaurant-goer. But I have the option to dine out. I also have the option not to commit crimes.
Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which represents inmates, said about 85 percent of convicted criminals in Massachusetts earn less than $11,000 a year at the time of their convictions. In prison, only about 10 percent of inmates work, earning $1.50 a day.
"While this may sound logical initially," Walker said of the proposed fee, "most defendants are indigent and are already assessed a number of fees. Those who are sent to prison have to pay to see doctors, and get haircuts, and who ends up paying? Their families."
But Patrick should be given credit for trying to tackle the problem head-on -- earning criticism from lobbyists for restaurant and convicts means he's probably doing something right.
George Bush's answer to the gigantic hole he has blown in the federal budget is also timeless, if far less inventive: blame the other guy.
Bush is a firm believer in former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long's succinct description of tax policy: "Don't tax me, don't tax thee; tax that fellow behind the tree."
The Washington Post reports W.'s answer to the budget chasm is, surprise, blame the Democrats.
The man (and the party) that has given billions in tax breaks to the richest 1 percent of the country and wasted countless trillions more on a reckless war in Iraq, thinks the public is gullible enough to blame the Democrats if Congress doesn't balance the budget (by ripping the heart of our domestic spending).
You know what? He's probably right. Unless, of course, that fellow behind the tree gets tired of paying taxes.