Viewpoint: Question 3 deserves an emphatic 'no'
Published: Sunday, October 17, 2010, 7:30 PM Updated: Monday, October 18, 2010, 4:10 PM
I am emphatically urging a “No” vote on Question 3, the proposal to cut the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.
The proponents of Question 3 - primarily the members of the Libertarian Party, and their leader Carla Howell, whose effort to eliminate the state income tax was soundly rebuked, for the second time, in 2008 - are at it again, attempting to push their radical anti-government agenda by taking advantage of an unfortunate confluence of circumstances: the chronic distrust of all levels of government and a widespread fear for the future.
In their societal view, our state would be better off if we each took our tax cut and went our separate ways, without any concern for the common good, or any regard for the virtue of working together, of building community. Never mind the fact that many of our critical public services will be crippled if Question 3 passes, and never mind that our educational systems and infrastructure will suffer to such an extent that we would lose our ability to maintain and attract new high-tech, good-paying employers. These are facts, and they get in the way of the story Question 3 proponents are trying to sell.
Supporters of the sales tax rollback never, never, discuss in any detail the likely impact of gouging $2.5 billion from next year’s state budget, a budget that is already in deficit by $2 billion, or how that money might be replaced, if at all. They never talk about the likelihood that other, more regressive, forms of taxation - namely property taxes and user fees - will be dramatically increased, and that such increases will fall disproportionately on the elderly and low- and middle-income people, wiping out any “benefit” of a sales tax rollback. Instead, they dismiss these consequences by reverting to standard playbook phrases, claiming simplistically that government is “too big,” that the private sector will magically pick up the slack, and that most, if not all, public investment is “wasteful spending.”
Simply put, Question 3 is yet another cynical attack on government, on the virtue of community building, and its proponents are interested only in winning, not governing.
If they have a plan, a specific plan, for how to govern our state should they win on Nov. 2, they should show it to us. As best I can tell, they have no fiscally responsible spending plan. They have an agenda, an agenda to dismantle government, to eliminate the services, like police and fire protection, education and infrastructure maintenance, to name a few, that we as a people decided long ago should be supported by taxes and made available to rich and poor alike. Instead, proponents of Question 3 seek to replace that kind of community investment with free market, corporate opportunities available only to those with independent financial means.
Anyone considering a vote in favor of Question 3 might want to take a look at what happened recently in Obion County, Tennessee, where residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton. One resident did not pay, and when his house caught fire, firefighters stood by and watched it burn to the ground, springing into action only when the blaze crossed the property line and threatened to ignite the house of a neighbor who had paid the $75. Is that the kind of community we want here in Massachusetts?
Furthermore, it would be interesting to hear Question 3 proponents explain how, if our current sales tax rate is so unreasonable and has such a negative impact on businesses and taxpayers, our state has managed to generate enough economic activity to rank first in the nation in the rate of private sector job growth this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Workforce Statistics.
Instead of taking a meat cleaver to government, we should be encouraging people to participate in government, to take a more active role in making sure that government spends taxpayer money wisely and efficiently and works in partnership with our communities, our schools, our children, our elderly, everyone who is concerned about the quality of our common future.
I think we should be joining forces with all the “No on Question 3” organizations, notably the pro-business Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, hardly a liberal organization, which, in a recent report, concluded that “it is impossible to overstate the enormity of the consequences of reducing state revenues by $2.5 billion when programs have already been cut by $2 billion and with the state facing another $2 billion shortfall next year.”
In politics, the easiest thing to do is run a campaign promising consequence-free tax cuts. It takes no courage to tell voters that they can get more by paying less. But politicking is not the same as governing. Governing, for me, is the act of doing what is necessary to promote compassion and quality of life, in other words civilization. If this blatantly cynical attack on government is approved, then we will have turned our backs on our children, on our fellow citizens, on our common future.
Proposals like Question 3, and Question 1, which, if approved, would repeal the state sales tax on alcohol, aren’t just asking us if want to continue paying these taxes. They are asking us if we want our Commonwealth to be a community.
I choose community. I believe that there is far more that unites us than divides us. I hope you will join me in voting “No” on Questions 1 and 3, not just to preserve these necessary sources of revenue for essential public services, but also to send a message to those who would tear us apart that we are reclaiming the idea that our society can succeed only when we work together.
Stanley Rosenberg is the democratic state senator from Amherst.