Editorial: Vote No on Question 1
Nobody likes to pay taxes. Nobody enjoys opening his paycheck and seeing how much money is being redirected from his checking account into federal and state coffers. Nobody likes being mocked by her gross income, looking down the list of deductions and landing on the disappointing net pay.
But on the other hand, everybody needs protection from a well-staffed police force and fire department. Everybody wants safe, passable roads and bridges to drive on. Everybody needs medical coverage, qualified teachers, intelligent and responsible leaders in the StateHouse and city halls, and investment in responsible, clean energy, along with the myriad other services provided by state and local governments.
None of those things come cheap. “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes so famously said.
Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot threatens that very civilization.
If approved, Question 1 would eliminate the state income tax in Massachusetts, which accounts for more than $12 billion, or about 40 percent of the state budget. The commonwealth would also stand to lose more than $1 billion in federal funds without the state tax dollars to match them.
Even the most conservative of budget hawks must realize the sudden removal of more than $13 billion from the state budget would cause financial chaos throughout the commonwealth, especially during the current economic crisis that has forced the state to shave about $1 billion from its budget already this year.
Proponents of Question 1 like to tell voters how they’ll get to keep more of their paycheck and make their own decisions with their money. They toss out attractive numbers like the average savings for taxpayers is $3,600 a year. Well, that’s true, but ask the proponents what the median savings will be and suddenly they don’t have any numbers. They don’t want to tell voters that Question 1 is not intended to benefit the average Massachusetts taxpayer.
Income tax is a progressive tax, meaning those who make more money and can afford to pay more do so. That is the way civilized government works. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, under Question 1, the average resident making around $50,000 a year would see just over $1,000 a year in savings. The true winners would be those making six figures or more, who would get back an average of more than $16,000 a year.
And the inequity doesn’t stop there. To compensate for the loss of 40 percent of its budget, the commonwealth would undoubtedly raise other fees, likely beginning with the sales tax, a regressive tax that does not increase with one’s ability to pay. The average resident would still need to buy the same goods and services as before, forcing him to pay a higher burden of the tax share.
Furthermore, the likely loss of local aid would force communities to raise property taxes on residents already struggling to remain in their homes. Again, those who can least afford it would be hardest hit.
The Committee for Small Government, one of the driving forces behind Question 1, says the government can make up the 40 percent difference without increasing taxes elsewhere. The referendum will force the government to downsize by slashing spending and eliminating waste, the group says. But the committee does not back up its claims or offer any suggestions where spending should be cut, saying only that more fiscal scrutiny must be applied and the budget process must be more transparent.
While there is certainly government waste — exemplified by corruption in such projects as the Big Dig — and there is surely a need for greater transparency and more streamlined services, that is not what Question 1 would compel. The irresponsible referendum would only force the government to cut critical services and raise taxes elsewhere.
Any Massachusetts resident who values and depends on government services ought to vote No on Question 1.
The Herald News