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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Playing with dynamite

Well at least the second half of the headline on Carla Howell's op-ed on income tax repeal is correct.

The out-of-state financial backers who are contributing to the personal coffers of Howell and Michael Cloud have nothing personal at stake Question 1, the ballot proposal that would repeal the state income tax.

That's why Howell can be quite glib about the impact of the question would have on the quality of life:

A yes vote will force the Legislature to streamline and cut the waste out of the budget.

It will force the Legislature to get rid of the failed, flawed government programs that don't work - and often make things worse.

It will make the Legislature accountable to Massachusetts workers and taxpayers - instead of to government employees, lobbyists, and special interests who profit from high government spending.

No one will dispute there is waste and flawed programs and that accountability sometimes appear to be at a premium. Chop $12.5 billion, give everyone $3,700 and all will be rosy, Howell says.

Nowhere does she suggest where the waste, inefficiency and flaws reside. The implicit answer is that she will leave it up to that very same Legislature she labels as unaccountable.

'Scuse me? This make sense -- how?

Jay Fitzgerald over at Hub Blog points fingers at the Hack-Progressive Alliance as fueling the Chicken Little mentality about tax repeal questions. There is no disputing that public employee unions concerned about their members jobs are financing the No effort -- and liberals like me have been raising warning flags.

But I have never considered Mike Widmer of the business-financed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation to be a member of that alliance. And Widmer has some of the numbers that Howell glosses right over.
The income tax produces $12.5 billion, or 40 percent, of the approximately $30 billion state budget. What would be the result if it were eliminated? To put it in perspective, if you were to lay off all 67,000 state employees - e.g. correctional officers, highway engineers, college professors, judges, mental health counselors - you would save only $5 billion.
Massachusetts funds a lot of things we expect to be there and take for granted: public safety, education, support for the vulnerable whether they are poor, disabled or elderly. Local aid supplements the services provided by cities and towns and financed through the property tax. Says Widmer:
An upcoming analysis by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation shows that if one were to preserve the 2008 level of spending for Medicaid, health reform, state aid to municipalities, and debt service, then one would have to eliminate every other program of state government - from prisons, courts, and State Police to funding for higher education and the elaborate network of services for the elderly, disabled, and others in need.
Eliminating the income tax would either bring an end to these services or a major rise in property taxes, and the levies on tobacco and alcohol. Heck, we'd start to resemble New Hampshire.

If you think Massachusetts doesn't deliver, I'd suggest moving up north. It's an easier way to vent your anger at the current state of things than to mess with the rest of us who like it here -- despite the obvious flaws.

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