, Salem, MA

March 4, 2014

Our view: Hideous 'grad tax' buzz is again heard in the land

The Salem News

---- — The graduated income tax has been the life mission of left-leaning Massachusetts Democrats for decades.

Fortunately for the Bay State and its taxpayers, voters have been smart enough to see through their scheme and reject it every time it comes before them — which it has five times in the last half century.

But every 10 to 20 years, like cicadas, the grad tax grubs emerge from underground and resume their hideous buzzing about tax “fairness.”

After all, their argument goes, it’s unfair that people making $20,000 a year must pay state income taxes at the same rate — 5.2 percent — as “the rich” making $200,000.

Never mind that 5.2 percent of $200,000 is a heck of a lot more than 5.2 percent of $20,000.

Twenty years ago, in 1994, Massachusetts voters rejected a constitutional amendment imposing a graduated income tax rate by a landslide margin of 65-28 percent (7 percent didn’t mark their ballots).

Voters also resoundingly rejected the grad tax in 1962, 1968, 1972 and 1976, according to Citizens for Limited Taxation, which was founded in 1974 to fight the grad tax.

But now, as if responding to a signal only they can hear, the grad tax advocates have emerged from their long slumber.

Last week, a 15-member panel called (of course) the Tax Fairness Commission said it will recommend a graduated income tax when it presents its report to the Legislature this week.

Grad tax advocates are betting that voters are dumber than they were 20 years ago.

We do not believe they are — not once they are informed of the implications of a grad tax. We intend to inform them, and we will make it a point to query candidates for state office in this year’s election on their position on the grad tax.

Why not a grad tax? It’s only fair for those who earn more to pay higher rates than those who earn less, isn’t it?

The truth is that the graduated income isn’t about fairness. It’s about dividing and conquering the taxpayers one income bracket at a time so the state can siphon ever more money from our pockets.

It’s a trap. Don’t fall for it.

When Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a massive income tax increase last year, legislators said no. They knew they would pay a price if they hiked taxes on everyone.

But what if they could have raised rates on only the “1 percenters,” or the 10 percenters or 20 percenters? Maybe they could have slipped it through, then gone on to hit the 30, 40, 50 and 60 percenters.

Think you don’t make enough to be affected by a grad tax? Think again.

In states with graduated income taxes, higher rates begin kicking in at surprisingly low income levels.

In California, for example, single taxpayers are charged 6 percent at $27,897 a year, according to the Tax Foundation. They pay 9.3 percent — half again as much — at just $48,942.

One Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Grossman, has already thrown out the idea of raising taxes on those making $60,000. Median household income in Massachusetts is just over $66,000, according to the U.S. Census, so a Grossman grad tax would snag many, many families.

As we’ve said before, Massachusetts’ problem isn’t revenue, it’s spending. A grad tax would only enable more wasteful spending and mismanagement.

That will drive away more employers and discourage others from locating here, as California’s excessive income rates have in the once Golden State.

Here’s what our sister paper, the Eagle-Tribune, said in an editorial 20 years ago on the two grad tax questions on the 1994 ballot.

“Question 6. Vote NO. Question 6 rewrites the state constitution, allowing a graduated income tax. A grad tax would be nothing but a tax trap for hardworking people in Massachusetts. Note that Citizens for Limited Taxation, which fights to bring taxes down for working people, is opposing this measure, while public employee unions and social service providers, who favor bigger government and higher taxes, support it. Once the Legislature is given the power to play with graduated tax rates, it will constantly hike taxes — one bracket at a time.

Question 7. Vote NO. Question 7 is the bait to lure taxpayers into the trap. It promises a tax cut for 92 percent of taxpayers. That might sound good, but there is no guarantee the Legislature will not immediately tinker with the rates.”

Those words make just as much sense in 2014.