Editorial: A strong 'no' to Question 1

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

With revenues running behind expectations, Gov. Deval Patrick took a sharp knife to the state budget last week, cutting more than $900 million in spending. About 1,000 state employees will lose their jobs, and hundreds of programs, from pre-school to elder services, will feel the pinch. As the economy continues its slide into recession, there is reason to expect these are the first cuts, not the last.

That blood-letting will be a walk in the park compared to the destruction promised by Question 1, the initiative on the November ballot repealing the state income tax.

If approved by voters, Question 1 would reduce income tax bills by 50 percent on Jan. 1, 2009, and eliminate the other 50 percent a year later. It's not a statement of opinion or a request to the Legislature. It is a law that requires no legislative action to take effect.

That would cut $12.5 billion from the state government's revenue stream, which amounts to 40 percent of the budget. But that understates its real impact. There are some items that cannot, by law, be cut. The state must pay debt service on its bonds. Federal and state laws require spending on some health and education programs. According to the nonpartisan Mass. Taxpayers Foundation, if you take the legal requirements off the table, more than 70 percent of the state budget will have to be cut to accommodate the repeal of the state income tax.

The MTF has another way to put the figures in perspective: If all of the state's 68,000 employees were laid off - every politician, prison guard, professor, state cop, social worker, park ranger and more - the state would still be less than halfway toward the cuts Question 1 would require.

The proponents of Question 1 refuse to say where the cuts should fall, but the numbers would force every item on to the table. Local aid would have to be reduced or eliminated, threatening schools, public safety and all local services. That means property taxes would have to be sharply increased, as would a host of other taxes and fees.

Proponents trumpet an average savings of $3,700 per taxpayer which, in tough economic times, is an attractive offer. But it's also a misleading one. The MTF figures 65 percent of taxpayers would get less than $3,700, with the lowest 21 percent of earners saving an average of $53 and the next 20 percent saving an average of $577. Those who earn more than $100,000, on the other hand, would reap an average $16,295 if Question 1 passes. Then there are those who pay little or no state income taxes, including many senior citizens. They will pay far more in higher property taxes, fees and lost services than they will save through Question 1.

Question 1 is a measure of the public's cynicism about government, embraced by many people who simply want to send a message to Beacon Hill. We understand the sentiment. But Question 1 is a law, not a message, and passage would have a devastating impact on Massachusetts' reputation, on its bond rating, on its prospects for economic development and on the services on which millions of residents depend.

If you want to send a message to Beacon Hill, elect better candidates, tell your leaders what you think and get involved in politics and government. But don't hurt your state and its citizens with an irresponsible vote. We urge voters to choose reason over cynicism on Nov. 4 and vote "No" on Question 1.

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