The New Tea Party

On Christmas day, I posted a piece discussing the ways we here in New Hampshire keeps a rein on our legislature. And now I am reminded of just why we do that.

Unlike New Hampshire, Massachusetts has a state income tax. (As well as a sales tax and pretty much any other tax imaginable.) It was set at 5.8% as a “temporary” measure back in the 80’s, but like any other “temporary” tax, that part of the term quickly faded from the legislature’s memory. Finally there was enough push to roll it back to 5.3%. There was a followup move to raise it back up, but a very clever libertarian-minded lawmaker inserted a provision making the higher rate “optional” — those who thought that the state needed more money could simply choose the higher rate. The percentage of Massachusetts subjects citizens who choose to pay the higher rate remains a tiny fraction of one percent every year — and, oddly enough, none of them seemed to be named “Kennedy” or “Kerry” or “Patrick.”

Anyway, some people didn’t think that the cut was enough, so they pushed for a ballot question on cutting the rate to 5%. And, in 2000, it passed in a legally-binding measure.

At least, legally binding in theory. In practice, the legislature chose to just ignore the measure, to pretend it never happened. And the rate remained at 5.3% (or 5.8%, if they should so choose) ever since.

Well, some of the same people who pushed that measure are back — and they’re pissed off. This time, they’ve gone to even further lengths to make the vote binding — and even more severe. They want to abolish the state’s income tax entirely.

This reaction is being called by the Commonwealth’s governor, Deval Patrick, as “dumb.” He brings up the fact that about 40% of the state’s entire budget comes from the income tax, and threatens wholesale chaos and mayhem should the income tax be abolished.

For far too many years, the government of Massachusetts has treated its citizens like sheep. It governs far too many aspects of their lives to the point where it’s not much of a stretch to say “aything not mandated is forbidden.” It’s taxed and taxed and taxed them, and used people’s own money to bribe their assent.

And let it never be forgotten that Massachusetts is a classic example of one-party rule. It is the bluest of blue states, with Democrats holding the entire Congressional delegation, all statewide elective offices, and over 85% of both houses of the state legislature. Republicans in Massachusetts are on the verge of qualifying for “endangered species” status.

Now enough of the people have gotten sick of the games being played by the politicians, and ar hitting back in the only way they can — and in the way guaranteed to hurt the politicians the most.

I fully expect that the legislature will find some way (legal or otherwise) to derail the “kill the tax” ballot question. If they’re smart, they’ll couple it with a cut in the tax rate and some meaningful reforms to the Massachusetts budget process and tax structure.

But betting on Massachusetts politicians to do the smart thing is almost never a safe bet.

Every state ought to watch the developments in the “axe the tax” movement in Massachusetts. Once again, the Bay State is providing a wonderful cautionary tale for the rest of us.

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