NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 11, 2013

Tra la, it's May -- time to shop before the taxes go up

Barbara Anderson
Newburyport Daily News

---- — The world is young today:

Forget the gods are old,

Forget the years of gold

When all the months were May.

— Digby Mackworth Dolben

I’ve read that this “may” be the coldest spring in recorded history in New England, unless we have an unusually hot day that allows 1976 to keep the record. I haven’t forgotten 1976, when we were told the new Ice Age was coming. Regardless, the cold nights and cool days are prolonging the life of my daffodils, forsythia and mock-pear blossoms, as my lilac bushes wait their turn with small purple blooms, as yet unscented.

The enjoyment and expectation do remind me of my golden youth. Yet the gods aren’t the only ones who are old; my present age is called the golden years, but it’s the gold of autumn, the end of nature’s cycle.

After decades of faithfully attending Marblehead Town Meeting, I realized this week that I just can’t sit for three hours in anything but my beloved Ekornes stressless recliner; after an hour I went home to watch on television. I’m glad nothing passed or failed by one vote.

The closest vote was the last, after the debate on leaf blowers. I think this year’s compromise, to ban them except for spring and fall cleanup, might have passed except that at the last minute the selectmen tried to amend it to exclude town departments. The spontaneous laughter was followed by defeat for both the amendment and the ban.

This sense of voter humor renewed my faith in Town Meeting, which had already been boosted when departing School Committee Vice-Chairman Jonathan Lederman, presenting its budget, actually thanked taxpayers for funding the schools. He was followed by the chairman of the Glover School Building Committee, Dick Nohelty, thanking taxpayers for paying for the new school. Some town or state official might have thanked taxpayers somewhere during my golden years of political activism, but if so I’ve forgotten that golden moment.

Meanwhile, on Beacon Hill there are new taxes in a complicated mix of bills: the governor’s $1.9 billion proposal that leans heavily on a major increase in the income tax, so far rejected by the Legislature, which has its own House and Senate versions with gas and tobacco tax hikes. All versions have a new sales tax on computer services. There’s also a transportation bond bill and the House budget, both of which assume passage of the legislative tax package, which is presently in a conference committee to resolve any differences.

Meanwhile, the Senate is working on its own version of the budget, and the governor is still arguing for his higher, broader taxes. I am just trying to understand how this sales tax on computer services would work.

One small-businessman told me: “During the current depression, I’ve already had to discount my normal rates in order to get work. Accordingly, if I invoice my customer for $10,000, I’d have to pay the state $625. In other words, the sales tax will act as a 31.25% income surtax on my $2,000 profit. This would be devastating …

“It is even worse. As I understand the legislation as passed by the House and Senate, if I subcontract a portion of the project to another consultant, I would have to pay a double sales tax on the amount of the subcontract. For example, suppose the consultant invoices me for $5,000. As I read the legislation, I would have to pay the state an additional $313 in sales tax on that $5,000 invoice from the subcontractor, which would bring the effective income surtax on this hypothetical project to almost 47 percent.”

The taxpayer offered his conclusion: “If this legislation becomes law, I will no longer be able to work as a computer consultant in this state.” He said he guessed he could apply for MassHealth, EBT, fuel assistance, housing subsidy, etc.

I’m sure he’s not the only productive person who has fantasies of dropping out of the private sector and sucking up government services.

In my golden years, I’m tempted myself to drop out into a simple life, smelling the lilacs and roses, watching television movies, reading novels, and writing poetry like Digby Dolen’s. But I have to stay politically involved enough to keep an eye on Proposition 2 ½, which ensures I have a roof over my Ekornes chair, where I sit to watch, read and write.

I don’t know how the new state sales tax on computer services will affect me; no one will know until bureaucrats figure out a way to implement it. But the U.S. Senate has just passed a sales tax on Internet sales that, if it gets through the U.S. House, will definitely make me pay a sales tax as well as shipping costs just to avoid driving around the North Shore using higher-taxed gas, dodging low-attention drivers.

Stop basking in May, folks, it’s time to shop!

I just went to Amazon to buy a high-quality metal toaster to replace the plastic one that caught on fire last week. I’m planning to spend the remainder of my golden years remembering my every little tax rebellion, as I enjoy toast and English muffins from my still tax-free Internet toaster.

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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.