NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 26, 2013

Column: Patrick knows he’ll win with tax-hike shell game

Message to Beacon Hill: What part of 5 percent don’t you understand?

Income tax rate history lesson: In 1989, Michael Dukakis increased the rate from its traditional 5 percent to 5.75 percent. The only way he and Democratic legislative leaders could get even many Democrats to vote for it was to promise that the new rate was “temporary.” And sure it enough, it was: The next year they increased it to 6.25 percent.

They said this was temporary, too, and tried to assuage voter outrage over the earlier lie with a requirement that the rate drop automatically in 1992 to 5.95 percent. Not believing them, taxpayer activists including me put a question on the 1990 ballot to repeal the entire Dukakis package, which included, along with the income tax increase, an expansion of the sales tax to services, and an increase in the state gas tax for “transportation needs.” Opponents said the repeal “goes too far” and voters rejected it; maybe they thought the gas tax increase was actually going to be spent on roads and bridges.

But using the same ballot, still-angry voters threw out a bunch of the perps, electing a Republican governor who ran on repealing the Dukakis taxes, and 14 new Republican legislators.

It almost tempts one to choose this message to legislators as they consider the Patrick tax hikes: Go ahead, make my day. No Democrat was elected governor for the next 16 years.

In 1992, when liberals tried to keep the income tax rate at 6.25 percent, Gov. William Weld threatened a veto, and had enough taxpayer-friendly legislators to sustain it; so the rate dropped to 5.95 percent. In 2000, Gov. Paul Cellucci helped lead another ballot campaign to rollback the rate to 5 percent; this one passed easily. In 2002, the Legislature froze the rate at 5.3 percent over Gov. Jane Swift’s veto. Gov. Mitt Romney filed a bill every year to “defrost” it. Democrats continued to thumb their noses at voters, who still elected Deval Patrick governor in 2006. He argued that instead of the income tax rate cut, taxpayers would rather have property tax relief.

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