Every tax is a pay cut. Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation
|Here's Rick Holmes at his best. An individual who gets paid a lot less than the governor and buys ink by the barrel. Ink of course, is a villanous compound of tanno-gallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime.|
|No time for a tax cut||May 9, 2004|
|Rick Holmes||Metrowest Daily News|
State revenues began falling in 2001, just after Massachusetts voters,
encouraged by then-Gov. Paul Cellucci's promise that no services would be
hurt, voted to dramatically cut the state income tax rate.
The years since have been brutal for those crafting budgets at the state and municipal level -- and those who depend on them. In three years, the Legislature cut $3 billion from its budget, breaking Cellucci's promise over and over again.
From preschool to graduate school, education has suffered. On a per-pupil basis, Massachusetts cut aid to local school districts more than any other state. Communities ready to build new schools were frozen out of the state School Building Assistance program.
After years of ratcheting down tuition at state colleges and universities, tuition and fees shot up. Public higher education has always been Beacon Hill's poor stepchild, and as revenues declined, UMass and state colleges saw deep cuts in state aid. The Legislature figured the colleges could always raise fees to make up the difference, and they did: It costs thousands of dollars more per year to attend UMass than it did three years ago.
Also hurt were the state's human service programs, and the families that depend on them. A survey by MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation found that social service providers in the region faced $2 million in budget cuts in 2002, followed by $3 million the next year. Hardest hit were substance abuse programs, school health services, home-care for frail elders, programs for at-risk youth and women's health services.
Joblessness and homelessness grew as money for social services shrank. Local taxes rose as cities and towns did what they had to do to survive deep cuts in state aid. To avoid raising taxes, the state raised fees on everything from drivers license renewals to certificates of blindness.
The good news at the end of this tale of woe is that state revenues appear to be recovering. Helped by a large spike in income tax withholding last month, revenues are running $517 million over projections for the year.
The bad news is that Gov. Mitt Romney has seized on the one-month spike to all for more tax cuts. The Legislature had wisely halted the voter-approved reduction in income tax rates at 5.3 percent. Romney wants to cut it to 5 percent.
It's hard to take this seriously from a governor who just a few weeks ago was warning of a structural deficit of over $1 billion. Since then, there have been no sweeping reforms to close the deficit, no new infusions of federal aid. If anything, a new dark cloud has appeared on the state's fiscal horizon, in the form of Judge Margaret Botsford's ruling in a landmark education case, which may well force the state to give additional billions to poor school districts.
A prudent -- we might say conservative -- governor would use the newfound cash to replenish the state's depleted rainy day accounts. A wise governor would let the revenue picture stabilize, understanding that the surpluses of the '90s were driven not by income tax receipts, but by capital gains receipts from the dot-com boom, unlikely ever to be repeated.
A thoughtful governor would repair the safety net, reinvest in public higher education and help cities and towns avoid the property tax increases that have become a far greater hardship than state income taxes.
Romney advocates some of this, but not enough. And by rolling out the tax-cut bandwagon so prematurely, he comes across as an opportunistic politician, pushing a familiar Republican button, instead of the responsible leader of a Commonwealth still a long way from fiscal health. We trust the Legislature will protect Massachusetts, from another tax-cut mistake.
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