No, that title is not sarcastic or ironic. I am singling out for praise an aspect of Massachusetts politics that I admire, and think every state should emulate.
As I’ve noted far too many times to count, Massachusetts is an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Besides recapturing the governorship last year (after 16 years of Republican governors), the Democrats hold both US Senate seats, all 10 US House seats, all other statewide elective offices, and over85% of the legislature. This situation has led to a near-ideal demonstration of political Darwinism, as Republicans and other conservatives have had to adapt to an incredibly hostile environment — or just get the hell out. (I’ve argued that “Massachusetts Republican” ought to be added to the list of endangered species.) So when one encounters one of these, it is very likely that they are a very canny, very capable, very astute politician. (Or, alternately, a “token” Republican, a RINO, kept in captivity by the majority and displayed every now and then to show their “tolerance” of these poor creatures.)
A better example cannot be found of the sheer resourcefulness of these hardy survivors than the state’s income tax structure.
In 2000, in a rare display of common sense, the people of Massachusetts had a referendum on their income tax rate. They voted, 59%-41%, in favor lf slashing it from 5.85% down to 5%. (It had been raised as a “temporary, emergency measure” in the 1980’s.) The then-speaker of the House didn’t care for losing control of that much money, so he got the legislature to “freeze” the cut at 5.3%, with plans to jack it back up later.
That’s when the conservatives got clever. They proposed a two-tiered tax structure. The “official” rate would be 5.3%, but the state would also recognize the old rate of 5.85%. Both rates would be listed on the tax returns, and the voter — if they felt that the state needed the money — could check off a box and pay the higher rate. But the default rate would stay at 5.3%.
That innocuous little move has kept the politicians at bay for years and years. Every time they bring up the idea of raising taxes again, their detractors just line up and ask each and every elected official to show their own state tax returns. After all, if they believe that everyone ought to pay higher taxes and the state needs the money, then they MUST be already paying that higher rate, right?
Well, Boston area talk show host/newspaper columnist/gadfly Howie Carr is one of the most devoted followers of this perennial game, and yesterday he once again continued his search for a single Massachusetts politician who chooses to pay the higher rate. And the search goes on.
Personally, I think that it would be great for a Massachusetts Republican to choose that higher rate for just one year. It would be a hell of a talking point — whenever one of the Democrats talks about raising the rate, all they have to do is say “I tried that higher rate, and it stunk on ice. I paid more, but I didn’t see a single damned benefit to anyone — especially not me. Have any of YOU paid that higher rate?”
In so many ways, Massachusetts represents the worst of the Left. And here, we see the “nanny state” in full flower. They want to use the full power of the State to compel people to do what’s “best,” because enough of them aren’t voluntarily doing what they should — and as proof, not a single Democratic lawmaker (as best as Howie can determine, and he’s got GREAT sources for this stuff) has the courage to do what they say “ought” to be done without being at the figurative point of a gun.
It says something that this simple shaming technique seems to be working. It says that these lawmakers are not completely and utterly beyond the pale, that they are not beyond being embarrassed when caught in flagrant hypocrisy. It says there just might be hope for Massachusetts after all.
Not much, but just a little.