Small-town mayors, liberal legislators, and deeply worried advocates for the poor launched impassioned campaigns yesterday to increase the Massachusetts sales tax to offset severe budget cuts...and
[N]early three dozen House Democrats met behind closed doors yesterday to hammer out budget amendments, with consensus beginning to develop around pushing a sales tax hike and new local-option taxes.
"There is growing support for raising the sales tax," said Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Newton Democrat. "We can spend one more penny on the dollar when we purchase nonessential items and maintain our police force, fire, and teachers. Or we can hold onto that one penny and make those drastic cuts. That's a debate we're going to have."Never fear! you think. Surely Senate President Therese ("Reform Before Revenue") Murray can be counted on to stop this tax madness? Not according to the Globe: "Senate President Therese Murray told reporters this week that she was still open to a sales tax hike..."
No need to worry! you say. Governor Patrick pledged repeatedly, emphatically (some might say self-righteously?) that he would not support broad-based tax increases. Uh-oh:
"I have ruled it out, but also I don't want to be a jerk with the Legislature," Patrick said earlier this month during a WTKK-FM radio appearance.One senses that "ruled it out" means something different to Patrick than to most other English speakers. But we wouldn't want him to be "a jerk with the Legislature." Much better to be a jerk with the voters, blithely breaking yet another in a long march of shattered campaign pledges - especially since he is not going to run again.
The truth is, as it always is in here in the Commonwealth, that there is no bulwark against the tax hikes that are fast approaching and gaining momentum. Note the plural. Do not let the headline on this Globe piece (Sides dig in on sales tax hike) obscure the content. The article also makes casual mention of a litany of other looming hikes. Consensus is building around the sales tax boost "and new local-option taxes" (meals in restaurants, hotel stays, your cable, internet and phone service). And don't forget the gas tax. Globe: "The growing tax debate is sure to complicate the Legislature's consideration of another tax increase in coming weeks, a 19-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike proposed by Governor Deval Patrick." Complicate? Doubt it.
Again, Rep. Dan Bosley's recent admonition to his colleagues is ringing in my ears: "People can't feel like we're raising taxes on them every week. You need . . . to do this one time."
As I and many others suspected, the much-touted, fiscally conservative budget released earlier this week was nothing but a diversionary tactic - a feint to draw artillery fire from pro-tax advocates so that the Legislature could use the smoke and debris created by the resulting explosion of indignation to hustle into position and move on Bosley's advice. They are getting their ducks in a row, and then they will "do this one time." ALL at one time.
Experienced taxers like Rep. Balser are deploying the usual minimalist rhetoric to shame us into rolling over for this latest series of increases.
"We can spend one more penny on the dollar when we purchase nonessential items and maintain our police force, fire, and teachers," she says.
"Massachusetts has one of the lowest sales tax rates in the country," the Globe gamely observes.
One percent! What is all the fuss? these folks ask. And sure, in the grand scheme "one percent," or "one penny on the dollar" does not sound like a lot. But that "penny" represents a twenty percent increase in the state sales tax. If you get a twenty percent raise, that is a lot. If your mortgage servicer or credit card company sends you a letter tomorrow increasing your rate by twenty percent, that would be a lot.
And that penny will hardly be alone in its flight from your wallet to state coffers. "Just a penny" in sales tax. "The price of a cup of coffee" to pay Patrick's gas tax. "A turkey sandwich with a side of potato salad" at the tolls to satisfy Transportation Secretary Jim Aloisi. A little more to keep your house wired to the 21st century, to eat at a restaurant, to stay in a motel.
This is the fundamental truth of living in Massachusetts: We don't kill ourselves fiscally with a gunshot to the head. We do ourselves in slowly, with a thousand tiny bites (I can't say "a thousand tiny cuts." We don't DO 'cuts' in Massachusetts).