I respect Reverend Hudson's honesty and candor. Most pro-tax increase advocates in the Commonwealth are loathe to label themselves explicitly as such. Our Legislature is full of people who agree with the Reverend's point of view, but one rarely finds an elected official willing to admit it.
The Reverend's column, however, rests on a false foundation. Pointing out, correctly, that essential services like police, paramedics, aid to the disabled and schools are "paid for through taxes," the Reverend argues that higher taxes should be viewed as "a civic responsibility to be embraced." "We should raise our own taxes," he proclaims. The income tax specifically.
Reverend Hudson fails to notice all the other things that are "paid for through taxes." MBTA policies that allow workers to retire in middle age with enormous pensions and life long health insurance - "paid for through taxes." Earmarked legislative pork in every annual state budget, including the latest one - "paid for through taxes." Patronage hires, no-show jobs and redundant positions throughout government - all "paid for through taxes."
Beyond rampant waste and inefficiency, our state government year after year turns back reform proposals that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, refusing to repeal the Pacheco Law, which hampers the state's ability to outsource non-essential state functions to the private sector; adopting cosmetic pension reforms while leaving huge dollar but politically-difficult union issues on the table; and (as reported just this weekend) allowing transportation salaries to continue to escalate, despite consolidation in state transportation agencies and, by the way, a budget-crushing recession.
Adopting the preferred Beacon Hill vernacular, the Reverend states that "[t]here’s no doubt our state budget needs new revenue sources." Respectfully, he is incorrect. Our government does not need "new revenue sources." Our elected leaders need to learn to live within a budget, just like our families and our businesses do. For several years now, our budget writers have consistently underestimated annual spending and over-estimated tax revenues. This is an unsustainable model that leads directly to deficits and to cuts in essential services.
Tax hike advocates like Reverend Hudson always come back to the same core, moral-flavored argument: "It’s time for us to pay our fair share," they say, never explaining how "our fair share" is determined. If "our fair share" is a rate of taxation sufficient to sate Beacon Hill's hunger for spending, then truly there is no limit to how high our taxes will climb.
I agree with Reverend Hudson on casino gambling. It is no budget panacea. He is wrong, however, to argue that yet another tax increase is the cure for our state's budget ills. Until our elected leaders do their "fair share" by finally addressing endemic waste and implementing real governing reforms, we taxpayers are already doing more than our "fair share."
POSTSCRIPT: I embedded a link in a parenthetical above to this weekend's front page Globe article about the escalation of transportation salaries under Gov. Deval Patrick. If you skipped over it, click into it now and read the whole thing. It is hard to conceive of a better way to illustrate exactly why the "raise our taxes" argument is so deeply misguided.