While the presidential campaign continues to command the national spotlight, many Massachusetts residents are turning their attention to an issue that hits closer to home: whether to vote for or against repealing the state personal income tax.
Opponents of the proposal have come out in force in recent weeks to make their case for why it would be detrimental to residents of some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable communities to vote yes for the proposed repeal.
Meanwhile, supporters are waging their own battle and are holding a rally this Saturday at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall to make their case.
The initiative, Question 1, will appear on all ballots across the Bay State this November. A “yes” vote would mean halving the 5.3 percent income tax rate to 2.65 percent effective Jan. 1, 2009, and eliminating it altogether as of Jan. 1, 2010.
A “no” vote would mean no change to the tax rate.
This marks the second time the tax repeal measure has appeared on Massachusetts’s ballots. The initiative was defeated the first time around in 2002, but by a margin of only 10 percent, much closer than many observers thought it would be.
Supporters of Question 1, such as the Libertarian-led Committee for Small Government, say that the initiative would put an estimated $12 billion in revenues — an average of $3,700 per worker — back in residents’ wallets, and would lead to a significant rollback in state government spending.
According to a survey conducted by the local anti-tax group Citizens for Limited Taxation in May 2007, Massachusetts residents said they feel that over 40 percent of tax dollars are being wasted by state government.
But with less than $8,000 in the bank as of Sept. 22, supporters face an enormous funding gulf. The Coalition for Our Communities, which opposes the tax rollback, had more than $1.2 million cash on hand, including $1 million from national teachers unions based in Washington, D.C.
While unions have poured money into the effort to defeat the measure, they aren’t alone in opposing it. Business groups have also warned of dire results, and top Democratic leaders on Beacon Hill — including Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray — are uniformly against the repeal.
Even Beacon Hill Republicans have been muted in their response, saying they’re sympathetic with the frustrations of taxpayers, but have stopped short of backing the question.
“There’s no question that it is David vs. Goliath. Our opposition is going to spend millions on advertising against us,” said Carla Howell, leader of the Committee for Small Government. “It’s a battle of the government haves vs. the government have-nots — those who profit from government spending and those who foot the bill.”
Opponents argue that ending the state income tax would cripple services by eliminating 40 percent of state revenues. They said they fear that legislators looking to bridge the funding gap would be forced to drive up local property rates and make drastic cuts to much needed community programs and services.
For her part, Margie Klein opposes Question 1, saying it “would be bad for all citizens, but especially low-income residents.”
“Question 1 would have an impact on education, infrastructure, health care and many other things we depend on in our daily lives,” said Klein, the co-director of the Righteous Indignation Project.
Klein and the project organized an interfaith rally led by community and religious activists in front of Copley Square’s Trinity Church on Sept. 17 to protest the ballot question.
“As a person of faith, it is my obligation to speak out on behalf of poor and disadvantaged people,” she said.
The following day, leaders from the city’s communities of color gathered at the Roxbury YMCA to discuss what needs to be done to stop Question 1 from passing. One key, according to Horace Small, is building support across racial and ethnic lines.
“This issue of Question 1 is much deeper for our community,” said Small, executive director of the Union for Minority Neighborhoods. “This is the first attempt by blacks and Latinos to work together on an issue that affects us both. There is a belief that black and brown people don’t work together — that’s not true.”
Mattapan resident Mary Tillman says she will be personally affected if the ballot initiative passes.(p2)
The proposal would slash the state’s revenues, lopping off 40 percent
of the money Massachusetts takes in each year, an $11 billion blow that
would ripple throughout state government and, critics say, cripple its
ability to deliver key services. But backers say there’s a big upside: Not only would state government learn to live on a leaner diet, but taxpayers would give themselves about a $3,600 tax break —
money they could spend as they see fit. More »
The proposal would slash the state’s revenues, lopping off 40 percent of the money Massachusetts takes in each year, an $11 billion blow that would ripple throughout state government and, critics say, cripple its ability to deliver key services. But backers say there’s a big upside: Not only would state government learn to live on a leaner diet, but taxpayers would give themselves about a $3,600 tax break — money they could spend as they see fit. More »
The home page of the Committee for Small Government, the principal supporters of repealing the state's personal income tax. More »
The home page of the Coalition for Our Communities, the chief opponents of repealing the state's personal income tax. More »