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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Profiles in Courage -- not

The Massachusetts House is poised to do the right thing in the wrong way. And when people notice, it won't be pretty.

The House has scheduled a formal session today to take up a bill that would boost state revenues by $500 million through higher cigarette taxes and closing some corporate tax loopholes.

That's right, today. Opening Day. World Champion Boston Red Sox back from a three-nation opener. Jets roaring overhead. Big, big rings. A day that's already an unofficial holiday throughout Red Sox Nation.

They might as well hold this debate at midnight in the bottom of a mine shaft. It would get the same attention. Actually, that would probably get more.

How do I know this? I have access to the indispensable Statehouse News Service, which is now thankfully carried by some newspaper chains that eliminated their own Statehouse bureaus.

Of course, if I read very carefully, down near the bottom of a Globe story about a proposal to cut corporate tax rates even more deeply, I might draw the conclusion that a vote is taking place today.

The News Service story suggests House members are understandably skittish about raising taxes in a recession no one wants to admit has started. From this vantage point though, it is a proper and courageous vote.

But when Red Sox fans -- the ones who sit in the luxury boxes and pay the corporate taxes and and the ones who face $1 a pack increases on the cigarettes -- find out what happened, they will be annoyed.

OK, maybe not the corporate types whose lobbyists might check their BlackBerrys during the game and know this is happening and are working to blunt its impact. But the other folks....

And when Joe and Jane Pack-a-Day get mad, they are going to have a way to voice their anger: a ballot question that would eliminate the state's income tax -- and approximately $11 billion.

As Mike Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association told the News Service with some understatement, a recession could worsen the collective mood of voters this fall.
“They tend to be even more surly than usual” during recessions, he said.
Raising taxes -- and cutting spending -- is never easy in a society that has been spoon-fed the notion that you can have anything you want from government and not have to pay for it. Therefore, you don't make the argument that belt-tightening and burden sharing is required during a debate no one will notice.

On the bright side for any reporter who may venture into the House chamber, it ought to be quick. The session begins at 11 a.m. First pitch is 2:05.

Play ball!

UPDATE: Whether it was Democrats who thought the bill too weak -- or Republicans who thought it too much -- the House delayed debate until Thursday. That made if easier to catch the last few innings too.

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