Vote YES on #1 (Massachusetts)

I think I’ll do a blog series on my thoughts on the five ballot questions that I’ll be voting on this coming Tuesday. (If you want to see if your town has added questions to the three statewide ones, plug your address into the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Election Division Voting Info site.)

Question #1 is about repealing the state income tax. I’m wholeheartedly for voting for this question. I think the main goal of getting it to pass is to force the Legislature to take a hard look at its programs, and cut those that it really doesn’t need. I think that the 40% reduction in their budget is possible, but I’m expecting that they won’t actually reduce things that much. I mean, there was a ballot initiative that passed in 2000 to lower the income tax from 5.85% to 5.0%, and the Legislature basically ignored it, although they did eventually slowly lower it to the current 5.3%. (Although, you can still voluntarily pay 5.85% if you want. I always get a chuckle out of that check box on the state tax form.) So, it seems unlikely that they’ll actually just keep all other taxes the same and cut the 40% of the budget. But I bet they’ll cut some things, overall taxes will be somewhat lower than they are now, and it at least sends a message that we’re tired of paying for expensive government programs that don’t work. I hope that this will increase transparency of our state government, as they publicly demonstrate what is and isn’t important to them.

I’m really not sure what the question’s actual chance of passage is. In 2002, this was on the ballot and got 45% of the vote, which was more than I think most observers were expecting. We just need 5 more percentage points. But there’s been a lot more publicized opposition to it this time, especially from the teacher’s union. (Like the politicians are actually going to cut school funding? They’ll threaten it to get you to vote against it, but I don’t think they’ll actually do it.) So, I tend to doubt it will pass this time. But, I was pleasantly surprised last time when it got 45%, so I hope I’m pleasantly surprised this time and it’s higher than that. (And even if it doesn’t pass, if more than 45% of people vote for it, it will hopefully send some sort of message to the Legislature.)

6 thoughts on “Vote YES on #1 (Massachusetts)

  1. You know, I kinda hear what you are saying. The practical effects of this referendum’s passage are that the state legislature will counter-amend it, but probably trim some fat along the way. I’m pretty okay with that. Alternatively, they could let it stand and cut out a large amount of fat, which I’m also okay with, especially as I’m no longer really receiving many services from the commonwealth but still paying them income taxes.

    But I still cannot bring myself to vote yes, for reasons that are not discernible from the summary provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The practical effects are fine, the text is not. If you click through to the full text of the measure, and have a look at section one, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’m not interested in a nine-paragraph long rant about the vices of big government and the virtues of small government being embedded into the state laws. This crap belongs in a (badly edited) op-ed piece or an internet flame war, not in legislation.

  2. I think that many pieces of legislation have a preamble explaining why they’re being passed. Granted, few are probably as long as the one in Q1. But I, for one, would be thrilled to have a part of state law be describing that Small Government Is Better. But I can definitely understand that it could be worded better than it is in there.

  3. I’m still trying to find an example of a major tax cut in recent memory that might provide a data point for what has been cut in the past, but holy cow, your Proponent’s web site is terrifying. Have you read their FAQ?

    It is one question long:

    Where will we find $12.6 billion in waste to cut from this budget?

    Now, I agree, this is the key question, isn’t it? How will the State make due without the income tax revenue? But have you read their answers?

    · $7 billion in refinancing cost for the Big Dig

    The point of refinancing is generally accepted to be to end up paying less on your borrowed money overall, at the price of an upfront-cost at the time of the refinancing. Complaining that refinancing costs are an economically poor decision for long-term fiscal health utterly eludes me.

    · $2.55 billion MORE added this year to the lucrative pensions for retired stategovernment employees – who get 2-3 times the retirement income you’ll get if you’re an average taxpayer. Government employees retire in their 40’s 50’s and early 60’s – while you have to work until your late 60s.

    Due to the lack of a citation, I could not easily confirm these numbers, nor determine what the author was using as his basis for comparison, both in terms of number of state government employees (or presumably, former state government employees, if they’re collecting their pensions at 50), and in terms of what they’re making. It seems a bold move to me, in this time of pensions drying up and being retracted almost everywhere in the modern economy, to argue that government employees are getting too large a pension.

    On an amusing side note, if you type “What does a Massachusetts government employee make?” into Google, the first hit is the Proponent’s web site.

    · $1 billion in tax subsidies to multi-billion dollar bio-tech pharmaceutical corporations.

    · $138.7 million tax subsidy to millionaire movie stars and directors.

    These I also don’t understand, from a perspective that lasts longer than the current fiscal year. If the income tax on individuals is going away, shouldn’t we be making sure we’re going to have businesses in Massachusetts to be paying corporate taxes in the next few years?

    · Several billion dollars/year in excess government employee health care benefits. Bring their copays, deductibles and coverage in line with the average taxpayer.

    It eludes me how one can know what “excess… health care benefits” are among the numbers that are publicly reported. Again, I cannot say for certain, because I have no information on where these numbers are coming from, but given the vague wording of this example, I suspect it to be a subjective measure.

    Split due to technical restraints…

  4. · $60,000 to $70,000 a year paid to toll collectors – plus benefits, plus pensions. This is for UNSKILLED jobs – counting and making change. A job that can be done by public schools 5th graders, high school dropouts, people trying to get off welfare, or even mentally challenged individuals who want to be contributing members of society.

    The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority pulls in over a quarter of a billion dollars a year in tolls. A cut to the income tax isn’t going to affect what they pay their toll collectors.

    Incidentally, I’m also curious how this number was come by — is it multiplying out an hourly wage, or is it actually an average of salary cost over number of employees? Alas, still no citations.

    · Several hundred million dollars every year spent on unnecessary and overpriced public school construction. Example: $200 million high school in Newton, Massachusetts. A large fraction funded out of the state government budget.

    Schools are big things. Land, especially inside the 128 Belt, is expensive. People, especially those actively involved in local government, want their say in what happens to that building. It has to be built to stricter codes, stronger, and more resilient than your average residential property (by a fair margin, I might add), and then, it has to be equipped with the appropriate supplies, and in this day and age, technology to properly achieve its primary mission. Deal with it.

    Still convinced education won’t be cut if the income tax goes away?

    · $3 billion to $5 billion we could cut from the budget and give back to taxpayers by renegotiating the terms and money of government pensions for state government employees, city and town government employees, and public school teachers.

    This is just a rehashing of the second point, but I find it staggering that they are now going after municipal employees as well, and school teachers, whose salaries are already embarrassingly low for the contribution they make, and want to renegotiate their pensions? Holy moly, Batman. Granted, every city and town does get money from the Commonwealth, much for education, but these are still not state employees you’re going after for savings anymore.

    I think any time you cut almost any budget’s revenue, from a nation’s to an individual’s, by 40%, you need to have a plan for what you’re going to do afterward, and it needs to look beyond making the budget balance for the next fiscal year. This proponent’s website has given me no indication that such a plan exists, and suggests cuts that are either nonsensical (1, 3, 4, and 6), mistargeted (7 and 8), or just degrading the already-slim reasons to work for the Commonwealth (2 and 5).

    Finally, I investigated the assertion that the Commonwealth’s spending, less the income tax, was equal to the 1999 budget. Well, sadly, the data for the 2007 income tax aggregate has not been published yet, so I had to use 2006. Using that number, $10.483B, from the 34.362B we spent in 2007 (usgovernmentspending.com), we get 23.879B, which is indeed, within 12% of the 21.278B 1999 budget (ibid). However, if we take into account the 28.47% inflation between Jan 1999 and Jan 2008 (inflationdata.com), we find that we, in fact, have only 18.587B in 1999 dollars to muck about with. I’ve not done the exercise of backtracking to find out at what point the inflation-adjusted budgets match, but I suspect we’d have to go back quite a ways.

    The point is, the proponents of this measure have clearly not thought it through, and there is every reason to believe Question 1 succeeding would not only do tremendous immediate damage to the Commonwealth, but it would have second- and third-order effects that would ensure both the quality of life of it citizens and its overall prosperity would drop significantly.

  5. I guess my first paragraph wasn’t clear enough.

    There are three state-wide questions. Charlton has two additional questions on its ballot. I don’t know what additional questions are on other towns’ ballots.

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