SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 14, 2013

Column: Taxing us into utopia

Joseph F. Doyle
The Salem News

---- — Deval Patrick’s January “State of the State” address did not quite reach the fervent, harmonious level of a revival meeting, which he apparently intended to generate in order to slide his opaque tax hike (which starts at roughly $1.92 billion into instant popularity.

A week after the heinous Boston Marathon bombing, Patrick and the state Legislature continued along with the pernicious process of getting into our wallets, trying to figure out whether they’re going to take $500 million, $800 million, $1.1 billion or roughly $2 billion. Most of the people in this state are still suffering from the financial debacle of 2008-2009, and are working more for less money.

During the manhunt for the Marathon bombers, there was a long camera shot of a main thoroughfare in Watertown on television, and I realized, after the fact, that I was looking at roughly $2 billion dollars in pay packages and transportation equipment, but the surviving bomber was found by David Henneberry, a Watertown resident having a cigarette and walking his dog in his back yard. So, along with Patrick and the state Legislature’s new money grab, Congress being intent on attacking Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid entitlements and quietly repealing the Stock Act, once again allowing federal legislators to practice the ultimate in insider trading, it dawned on me that there are really two Americas, one a leaky rowboat, and the other a fabulous pleasure cruiser.

Somewhere along the line, local, state and federal public servants lost sight of the fact that they are public servants. In no other sector of society can you vote your own pay package, your own pension package and your own benefit package, unless you are in the upper echelons of corporate society. Public service was originally framed as a sacrifice, wherein you took some time away from your regular life to do a favor for the country that gave you the opportunity to have a regular life. Now it’s become a different class of society, with more amenities, both actual and financial, than the non-political class has, which means the rest of us.

Somehow, it has to be conveyed to these people that public life is not a gluttonous, all-you-can-eat, endless gourmet buffet. As it stands right now in local and state government, their pay packages, perks and pensions are unsustainable. We have to become one America again.

Deval Patrick has an outstanding opportunity to lead this state into a financial revolution whose time has come. Originally, when the Democratic field was crowded with potential gubernatorial candidates, Patrick put the spotlight on himself by repeatedly stating that he had a “magic formula” to cut property taxes across the state. He could actually do that now, simply by limiting compensation to all state workers to a maximum of $100,000, eliminating per diems so public officials could remember what it really takes to live in everyday life (and feel it), and cutting the state $52 billion cash pension fund in half, buying into federal Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare for $26 billion and using the remaining $26 billion for roads, bridges, education, retiring all debt, giving a badly needed injection of funds for mental health and putting any remainder into the rainy day funds. Further, he should cut off all state aid to the 351 cities and towns of Massachusetts until they convert their own pay packages and pension funds in conformity with the state plan. This would decrease the cities’ and towns’ appetite for spiraling property taxes.

Besides that, the state government should cut the sales tax in half, cut the income tax in half, eliminate tolls and cut business fees, licensing, and business taxes in half. This would exponentially upgrade the quality of life in this state and make it extremely attractive to do business here. It would be an unbelievable jolt to the state economy because there would be more money in everybody’s pockets.

If there’s going to be any revival meetings around here, let’s make them about why America went to war against the British monarchy in the first place — unreasonable, ever-escalating and unending taxes!

Joseph F. Doyle is a freelance writer based in Salem.