A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 3, 2000
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
REVOLUTIONARY" THINKING ABOUT TAXES
"Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."
-Benjamin Franklin, 1789
Ben Franklin was justified in his fears that the bold new experiment in government, the United States of America, would not stand the test of time. After all, America- and the whole world for that matter- had already seen decades of political instability and unrest. Despite this situation, however, Ben Franklin's worst fears never did materialize.
Having just celebrated the 223rd anniversary of the United States on July 4, 2000, we can say with confidence that we have made it as a nation; the Constitution is alive and well.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about Franklin, who died less than a year after making his famous statement about the two certainties of life. In dying, Franklin proved his own theory about the inevitability of death. He did not have to wait so long, however, to prove the inevitability of taxes. Franklin and his countrymen had already become quite overwhelmed by taxes because of the harsh rule of the British.
As all of us remember from our primary school days, taxes were one of the principal reasons that Americans took up arms against their mother country in 1775. Among the more infamous taxation acts were the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and the Townshend Acts (1767).
All of these met with massive resistance from the colonists, who staged protests, revolts, and other acts of defiance. The Townshend Acts in particular caused the Massachusetts General Court, and Sam Adams specifically, to call for a general boycott of British goods. After refusing to revoke the resolution, this legislative body was dissolved by the colonial governor in 1768.
The Tea Act of 1773 is of special importance to the citizens of Massachusetts because it led to one of greatest measures of civil disobedience in American history. The Tea Act maintained a tax on imported tea that had been in effect for six years, thereby demonstrating the power of Parliament to tax the colonies. When the first shipment of tea arrived in Boston Harbor in the winter of 1773, the colonists responded in a very unique fashion. During the "Boston Tea Party," as it later came to be known, the celebrants threw 342 chests of tea into the Boston Harbor. Whether that tea was green, black, or white, the taxpayers were "red" with rebellion!
This drastic action was certainly justified in light of the situation. The colonists were being squeezed at every opportunity by the British. In their eyes, they were receiving no benefits from sending their money to England. The colonists felt that taxes were simply tools of oppression used by the British government to tighten its grip on the 13 Colonies.
Taxes in those days, of course, were entirely different than the taxes of today. Back then, revenues were being shipped back to Great Britain for the purposes of maintaining the empire- all of which was happening without the consent of the colonists. Today, these revenues get poured right back into the many worthy initiatives and programs that the citizens of Massachusetts have asked for through their elected officials. The democratic system established by our forefathers has allowed our citizens to actually create the programs and services that they support with their taxes. Over the years, the people of Massachusetts have taken advantage of this system by devising a host of government initiatives of which all of us can be very proud.
Regrettably, there is an extreme income tax cut proposal before the legislature (in the form of an initiative petition) that would endanger the future of the Commonwealth if it were to be passed. The General Court has opposed this particular measure for several reasons, although it is not adverse to cutting taxes in principle. On the contrary, we have cut taxes over 35 times in the last decade, saving taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion. Many of these cuts were targeted towards middle and low income individuals- the people who are most in need of tax relief.
Last year, the legislature approved a House-sponsored budgetary measure that decreased the tax rate from 5.95% to 5.75% over a three year period. In this year's budget, the House included a provision that would eventually reduce the income tax rate to 5.0%, provided however that the economic boom continue into the future. By employing such a prudent and calculated method, we will cut taxes gradually and only when we are fiscally capable of doing so. In contrast, the current measure (which will be on the ballot in November) would lop off the tax rate to 5.0% regardless of any consequences or any negative impact upon the fiscal health of the state.
A reckless, automatic reduction of our state's primary revenue engine is shortsighted because it does not take the long term well-being of the Commonwealth into consideration. It only seeks to play on the hopes and fears of citizens by promising that they can have their cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, smoke and mirrors never make for good government and they usually cost us more money in the long run. We all remember the disaster of the tax-cutting "voodoo economics" in the 1980s, which resulted in a $5 trillion dollar national debt.
Taxation should not be a "hot button" political issue that is at the mercy of the whims of the day, but rather one that is assigned to rational, clear-headed policymaking that seeks to give citizens the best services for the least amount of money. Taxes are not always as bad as political spin doctors make them out to be, and they are certainly nothing like the tyrannical measures imposed by the British empire.
Rather, taxation is society's way of pooling its wealth together for the common purpose of maintaining the well-being of all citizens. Tax revenues pay for the education of our children, for our roads and bridges, for the growth of our economy, for public safety, for the care of our elderly, and for a million other things that many of us never even think about. Taxes follow us throughout our lives because they help to maintain the services and institutions that maintain us as a people.
Naturally, taxes must be kept as low as possible and should be reduced when it is economically feasible. But once the taxpayers have determined that they need a certain level of services and are willing to pay for them, cutting taxes only deprives the state of the revenue needed to administer these services. Of course we want to have less money taken out of our paycheck, but we also want to finish paving Washington Street in Winchester; to complete the Town Common and South School projects in Stoneham; and to keep funding coming in to Reading to supplement local spending for a variety of worthy initiatives.
Surely, all of us enjoy a little "tax revolt" once in a while, but we must be careful when "tossing the chests" into the harbor. It would be nice to throw everything overboard all at once, but the better approach is to toss a few chests over gradually, making less "waves" in our pool of revenue. In this way, we can cut taxes, provide excellent services, and keep the ship "afloat" at the same time. We do so with the understanding that there is a whole lot more to tax policy than flashy buttons and witty bumper stickers making empty promises that will only serve to run us aground.