Monday, April 27, 2009

Revenue Clucking on Beacon Hill

Lackaday, the poor, terrified little critters in the Massachusetts General Court run from the necessary. As the newish Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo clucks about raising the sales tax, we are back to the cowardly measures of yore.

Certainly our current economic catastrophe exacerbated our local woes. While it led to demands for an alternative to a budget slashed by $1.8 billion, the pattern of avoidance is long and profound. The chicks on the Hill are making us stew in their juices again.

For one example, look at our collapsing bridge and road infrastructure. Had the legislature raised the revenue decades ago and a decade ago to fix them, the solutions were relatively easy and inexpensive. Since then, the problems have worsened and the cost soared. It's not so manageable now.

For another, look to the MBTA. The same cluckers cut a deal years ago, forcing the T to tie its debt reduction to the state sales tax. For that, the lawmakers demanded level funding, that is, operating at breakeven or better. When the sale taxes fell dramatically and stayed low, they refused to acknowledge their mistake or adjust anything. As a direct result, the T is consumed by debt and slashing services just to function.

Both of those are only two in a long list of cowardly moves by the General Court. Up there, they operate under two deadly premises:
  1. Do not raise taxes if you want to stay in office and power.
  2. Do the minimal and say the job is done.
For the first, we pay big time and long-term. Avoiding the necessary simply delays it and makes it more expensive. These chickens are like a homeowner who won't pay $1,000 for a simple roof patch job and then ends up paying $7,000 to replace the whole thing as a result. This robs us.

The second is like the old Lone Ranger shows. The masked man captures the bad guy, turns to his faithful Indian companion and says, "Our work is done here, Tonto." They ride off to praise and expressions of wonder.

In this case, our chickens want to do a half or third measure by raising the sales tax from 5% to 6.25%. They want to forestall Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal of a 19¢ gas-tax hike. Despite the Boston Globe's muddled editorial today, the sales-tax bump is not the best solution.

What it emerges as is another of those Long Ranger fantasies. Do the simple and easy with the smallest number and their work is done.

Not by a long shot. Patrick's plan gives workable amounts of revenue. The legislature's barnyard clucking provides just a start. They'll be back in the fall with another fantasy — that casino gambling and/or slots wills provide the needed money.

Both of those legislature ploys will end up taxing the poor and middle class citizens the most. The gas tax is by far a fairer way to fund transportation and infrastructure needs...from transportation-related activities.

The other side is what the chickens in the hilltop coop have run from so many times. We need a progressive income tax. We need to bring our tax rates up above the bottom third to half of the nation. Yes, times are tough, but we need to do this now as we should have a long time ago.

The chickens are afraid of cries of Taxachusetts! Playing cheap, cheap, cheap on taxes has ended up costing us billions in increased costs instead. Surely there are adults among the chickens up there, adults who know about false economies of not spending for the essentials.

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John said...

Mike, a progressive income tax requires a Constitutional Amemdment, does it not?

massmarrier said...

Yes. At the moment, the constitution prohibits graduated income taxes. However, as the state budget folk describe forms of it already exist here by policy. Getting buy-in and then amending the constitution would take awhile. Expanding the policy and administration aspects do not.