Monday, May 18, 2009

Go ahead, raise my taxes

I doubt there's a single working person who hasn't looked at his/her paycheck and thought what a difference it would make to be able to take home gross rather than net pay. I know I have.

But I also don't much feel like going door to door, collecting enough money to pay for our police and fire departments, basic human services for my elderly neighbors, and road repair for the state highways.

Taxes are to the business of government as salary is to the business of families. We've got to have them. Massachusetts is nowhere near the most tax-burdened state, just as the U.S. is nowhere near the most tax-burdened country.

That said, I am far from a fan of the House of Representatives' proposed sales tax increase. The Senate Ways and Means budget does not include any new revenue sources and therefore their proposed budget cuts are even more severe than the House's, which passed an increase in sales tax from 5% to 6.5%. I think the Senate is waiting for public outcry to "force their hand" on the same. But sales taxes place a greater burden on working and poor households than on families with more disposable income.

There's a growing consensus in the progressive movement to accept whatever tax increase we can get as a way of eliminating the most devastating budget cuts, and the sales tax seems most likely to pass.

An income tax increase would be far fairer-- if you make more, you pay more. Would I like it? No. But don't worry, folks-- we're not going to get it, because our legislators are too concerned that they wouldn't get re-elected. They know that the public in general does not have the information we need about sources of revenue and that we're going to react in a kneejerk and totally understandable way about having any more taxes taken out of our paychecks.

I had a meeting a month ago with State Rep. Ben Swan about budget line items of particular concern to the elderly. We talked about possible new sources of revenue. When I mentioned an income tax increase, Rep. Swan said that the will (in the Legislature) just wasn't there.

"Remember, next year is an election year," he said.

It wasn't until several days later that it hit me-- given that legislators serve only two years, it's always an election year either this year or next year! (But don't get me wrong, I don't think four year terms would solve this problem.)

Yes, there's waste in government, and we as taxpayers deserve a since effort on our legislators' parts to eliminate it. But it's not going to keep our state from resembling a third world country if we don't find new revenue sources.

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