Not your grandfather's tax cut
And when you look at the people circulating and signing the petitions, you can't help but notice they are normal moms and dads -- no extra heads or limbs -- who are struggling to make ends as the economy goes south.
Anderson's comments about the impact of the proposed initiative to eliminate the Massachusetts income tax seem oddly out of sync for our state's most famous tax fighter. Because the proposal put forward by Carla Howell, the Libertarian candidate for governor in 2002, dwarfs anything she has done, cutting state revenues by something in the $12 billion range -- from a total state budget in the $28 billion range.
Hardly chump change.
How would the state cut $12 billion? That's three times the sum the state sends cities and towns for public schools. Laying off every state employee would only save about $5 billion, said Cam Huff, a private policy consultant who studies the state budget.
What do you realistically think will happen? Are schools going to close? Will police and firefighting services end? Will trash no longer be picked up or streets no longer plowed in winter?
Of course not. People have become far too accustomed to the no tax and spend snake oil offered by "supply side" advocates for the last 30 years. I always come back to what may be an apocryphal story where someone got up on a TV talk show and lamented "why do the taxpayers have to pay for it. Why can't government pay for it?"
So how does "government" pay for it?
The property tax is not the answer -- it's capped at 2.5 percent annual increases.
Sales tax? Not unless you are looking at double digits, a sure way to end the business we get from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, where sales taxes are higher.
Hike the corporate tax rate? Not a chance. They are already lamenting they are overtaxed and do you seriously think corporations would stick around in a state without quality schools or services? What do you think this is -- Mississippi?
Higher taxes on beer, booze and butts and tolls? What do you think this is -- New Hampshire?
Nope we would be looking at a serious new way of life. The assessments you pay in some communities for trash collection would be expanded to includes police, fire and schools. User fees, if you will. Add the plowing fee in winter. The leaf cleanup assessment in the fall.
Parks -- a luxury. Plow 'em under and build houses and stores that will add to the meager property tax and sales tax base.
Public transportation? You must be kidding. More cars means more gas tax collections. And we can add a pollution control assessment to the cost of the driver's license and tags. Not that it would control pollution. But look at the bright side -- traffic would ease off as people move out.
Petition backers will scream that this is all fearmongering, that the world did not end when Proposition 2 1/2 passed despite similar dire threats.
But the cuts then were quieter -- people laid off. We are talking about either wholesale elimination of services or the imposition of "user fees" that would make the current assessments for things from trash pickup to school sports seem like vending machine coinage.
And this is serious. The proposal received support from 45 percent of the voters the last time it was on the ballot. People are worried about their jobs and their homes in an economy where foreclosures are growing as fast as war spending. You can't do anything about the ineptitude and inaction at the federal level, so you lash out where you can.
Plus many voters like Anderson are annoyed because they haven't received the money they were due from the income tax rollback pushed by Canadian Ambassador A. Paul Cellucci in 2000.
A tanking economy prompted legislators to suspend the rollback in 2002, although there are signs revenues has returned to healthy enough levels that another reduction -- from 5.3 percent to 5.25 percent -- could kick in this year.
A word of advice to Deval Patrick and legislative leaders: let this reduction go through, no matter how tight the fiscal 2009 budget may look.
That is of course if the House can focus on anything other than speaker succession planning. Or the governor can take a few evenings off from writing his book.