The Salem News
---- — Message to Beacon Hill: What part of 5 percent don’t you understand?
Income tax rate history lesson. In 1989, Michael Dukakis increased the rate from its traditional 5 percent to 5.75 percent. The only way he and Democratic legislative leaders could get even many Democrats to vote for it was to promise that the new rate was “temporary.” And sure enough, it was: The next year, they increased it to 6.25 percent.
They said this was temporary, too, and tried to assuage voter outrage over the earlier lie with a requirement that the rate drop automatically in 1992 to 5.95 percent. Not believing them, taxpayer activists, including me, put a question on the 1990 ballot to repeal the entire Dukakis package, which included, along with the income tax increase, an expansion of the sales tax to services and an increase in the state gas tax for “transportation needs.” Opponents said the repeal “goes too far,” and voters rejected it; maybe they thought the gas tax increase was actually going to be spent on roads and bridges.
But using the same ballot, still-angry voters threw out a bunch of the perps, electing a Republican governor who ran on repealing the Dukakis taxes, and 14 new Republican legislators.
Almost tempts one to choose this message to legislators as they consider the Patrick tax hikes: Go ahead, make my day. No Democrat was elected governor for the next 16 years.
In 1992, when liberals tried to keep the income tax rate at 6.25 percent, Gov. William Weld threatened a veto and had enough taxpayer-friendly legislators to sustain it, so the rate dropped to 5.95 percent. In 2000, Gov. Paul Cellucci helped lead another ballot campaign to roll back the rate to 5 percent; this one passed easily. In 2002, the Legislature froze the rate at 5.3 percent over Gov. Jane Swift’s veto. Gov. Mitt Romney filed a bill every year to “defrost” it. Democrats continued to thumb their noses at voters, who still elected Deval Patrick governor in 2006. He argued that instead of the income tax rate cut, taxpayers would rather have property tax relief.
Of course, they didn’t get it; they got a sales tax increase instead. But still they elected him again in 2010, when he said he had no plans to further increase broad-based taxes. Last week, he announced his plan to increase the income tax rate to 6.25 percent again.
He says he will partly offset this by reducing the sales tax rate to 4.5 percent — the sales tax rate, as noted above, that he just hiked in 2009.
Memo to gullible voters: They take turns raising broad-based taxes. This year, it’s the income tax’s turn; they’ll be back to increase the sales tax rate again after the next election, “for transportation needs,” “for the children.”
Patrick also says he wants a graduated income tax. Unfortunately for him and other liberals who crave this easy way to raise taxes, one bracket at a time, our state constitution doesn’t allow a graduated income tax, and can only be amended by a vote of the people on a statewide ballot. This has been tried; the most recent attempts failed in 1962, 1968 and 1994.
Patrick said last week that instead of trying to amend the state constitution, he’ll increase the personal exemptions “to push more burden onto higher-income earners,” according to his budget director.
I was at a news conference in 1986 when the Massachusetts Senate wanted to do a backdoor version using vanishing personal exemptions; my comment at the time was that it’s unconstitutional. The state Supreme Judicial Court agreed. I’d expect the same decision on Patrick’s 2013 plan. Legislators might think twice about taking a roll-call vote that might be nullified if one of the “higher-income earners” goes to court.
Massachusetts Turnpike tolls were also sold as “temporary” to pay for the actual construction, after which they would end. In 2000, a group tried to make the state keep that promise with a ballot question to finally abolish the tolls; opponents said that if it passed there’d have to be a gas tax increase, so voters chose to keep the tolls. Patrick is now proposing to raise the tolls and increase the gas tax by adjusting the price to inflation every year.
The almost $2 billion Patrick tax plan also eliminates 45 deductions from the state income tax: too many to list here, but be sure to check them out before you support him “because he’s only taxing the rich.” You won’t get a state deduction for your contribution to Social Security or a public pension; the capital gains tax when you sell your home; your child under 12, his child care costs or later, her college tuition and scholarships; health savings accounts; and, did you hope to deduct your septic system repair or lead paint removal?
I’d suspect that the governor has lost his mind except I know this is all a game: Who knows which parts of his package will remain when the Legislature gets through with the package? All these various subjects will bring in plenty of money for leading Democrats as they hold fundraisers through the spring: It will “behoove” special-interest groups to show up with a check.
Question to the present majority of Massachusetts voters: What part of “taken for fools” don’t you understand?
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a regular Salem News columnist.