SHOW US THE TAX MONEY!
TUESDAY JUNE 24, 2008
Legislators: Voter anger may lead to end of income tax
BY JIM HAND SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
A weak economy, soaring gasoline prices and a frustration with government could cause voters to approve a ballot initiative to wipe out the state income tax, legislators said Thursday.
The legislators said they think the move is too drastic and would cripple state services, but believe voters are looking for a way to lower their costs and lash out at government.
“I think people are frustrated and are looking at a way of expressing it,” said state Rep. John Lepper, R-Attleboro.
State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, agreed.
“There is a great deal of frustration out there regarding the cost of everything going up,” she said. “I have constituents who say they cannot afford the gas to get to work. I would not be surprised if it passed.”
A group calling itself Committee for Smaller Government is sponsoring the move and has collected enough signatures to get it on the November ballot.
If passed, it would end the state income tax, which accounts for $11 billion, or almost 40 percent of state revenue.
“We want to save the people and the businesses of Massachusetts from economic ruin caused by high taxes and big government,” said Carla Howell, leader of the group.
“We want low taxes to attract business, jobs and talent into the state, rather than allowing high taxes to drive them out of state. We want taxpayers to get back an average or $3,600 every year to save, spend, or give away as they see fit,” she said. “With more tax dollars back in the hands of the workers who earned it, people in need will have a real chance to better their lives through private charity that is effective, dignified and humane.”
A number of groups and individuals have lined up against the measure, including social services advocates, legislative leaders and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
Even lawmakers who traditionally advocate for lower taxes, such as Lepper, say they oppose the measure as too extreme.
Lepper said service for the disabled would “disappear” and other services would be greatly scaled back.
Poirier said cities and towns are hurting now with tight budgets, but the current situation is nothing compared to what would happen if the income tax was eliminated.
“Can you image a 40 percent cut?” Poirier said. “I advocate for judicious cuts, but not with reckless abandon.”
Howell said she wants state government to cut the entire 40 percent if the measure passes, and not replace the income tax with increases in other taxes.
“Politicians like to threaten to cut services people care most about so they can distract attention away from the pork, waste and sweetheart deals that they dish out to their special interest friends. But ending the income tax will force the legislature to cut the waste, which is why they oppose it so fiercely,” she said.
Rep. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, said the cuts advocated by Howell would be “disastrous.”
He said he would favor reasonable cuts in waste and taxes.
Both Ross and Poirier said voter anger might not be as great if the state kept its promise from years ago and lowered the income tax rate to 5 percent. It is now 5.3 percent.
They also said state government has to take steps to earn the trust of voters.
In the meantime, legislators said the ballot initiative has an excellent chance of passing, considering a similar proposal got 45 percent of the vote in 2002.
Poirier said voters feel there is nothing they can do to lower gasoline or food costs and may see wiping out the income tax as the only step they can take to save themselves money.
Reprinted from The Sun Chronicle