SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 25, 2013

Benton: Choosing sides on taxes

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Gov. Deval Patrick may have put his fellow Democrats in a bind by proposing a hike in the state income tax rate in exchange for a slight cut in the sales tax.

Patrick has said he won’t run for re-election in 2014 and insists he has no plans to seek another elective post. But others seeking statewide or legislative office will no doubt be expected to declare themselves on the subject of taxes. And while Patrick’s pal, President Barack Obama, may have won a second term on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy, an across-the-board increase in the amount that the state takes from workers’ paychecks is another matter altogether.

Citizens for Limited Taxation is already threatening a petition to repeal any increase that might be approved by the Democratic majority on Beacon Hill, and the debate that would ensue could be just what the doctor ordered for ailing Bay State Republicans.

Patrick denies that Massachusetts already has the fourth-highest per-capita tax burden in the nation, but CLT Executive Director and fellow Salem News columnist Barbara Anderson says those figures come right from U.S. government sources. Higher taxes, whether on incomes or gasoline, will be a tough sell here even in the age of Obama II.

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A recent Arizona Republic piece generated much debate with its contention that “taxes are lower” in the Grand Canyon State as compared to Massachusetts, “but numbers show the quality of everything else is too.” Authors Michael O’Neil and Michael Altman roll out a host of statistics to make the case that while Bay Staters pay $1,706 more per capita in taxes than Arizonans ($4,933 vs. $3,227), the result is “$15,000 in additional household income” for the average Massachusetts family, “better educational attainment by almost every measure, better health care outcomes by virtually every measure, lower crime rates and less unemployment.”

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Among the first to be faced with the question of how she would vote on the Patrick tax plan will be Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne, one of two Democrats running in the special election for the seat left vacant by the death of Peabody state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis.

During her years on the school board, Griffin Dunne has never been averse to spending money even in the face of mediocre results in terms of educational attainment. And we suspect that she will have a difficult time saying no to the various public-employee unions that can be expected to line up behind the governor’s effort to raise more revenue.

The primary is March 5 (the race for the Democratic nomination pits Griffin Dunne against perennial candidate James “Demo” Moutsoulas) with the winner facing whichever of two political unknowns gains the Republican nomination and a formidable independent candidacy being mounted by veteran Councilor-at-large David Gravel in the April 2 final.

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In his own words: The obstructionist element on the Salem City Council is fond of blaming the media, specifically this newspaper, for its recent travails. But I thought Councilor-at-large Mike Sosnowki got things right the other night when he told colleagues regarding his and others’ failure to follow through on a pledge to find new quarters for various municipal departments, “We dropped the ball on that one.”

While it can occasionally be irksome to those on the receiving end, the Driscoll administration has gained a reputation for its aggressive follow-through.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.