Scot Lehigh had a fine column yesterday that addressed the question we’ve been asking: If we’re going to cut the income tax rate from 5.3% to 5.0%, what services do you cut? Is there a Free Lunch for taxpayers? Well, Lehigh did a good thing and asked the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, who studies these things:
”It is abundantly clear that the budget cannot accommodate the income tax rate cut on the two-year schedule proposed by the governor while simultaneously addressing even a handful of the many competing and costly priorities now being considered,” the foundation concluded.
Among those priorities: Restoring reduced human service programs, implementing the state’s new health-insurance mandate, increasing local aid to help bolster squeezed municipal services and relieve pressure on property taxes, and making a major investment in the state’s public colleges and universities, which, in real dollar terms, still languish some 30 percent below their 2001 funding levels.
A one-year rollback, meanwhile, “would have very direct repercussions on local aid and higher ed,” says Michael Widmer, president of the foundation. “It is too hard to do without an impact on a whole list of other spending priorities that have broad support among the political leadership.”
It is completely natural for taxpayers to want lower taxes, just as it’s natural for shoppers to want lower prices. And frankly, the Big Dig culture of Beacon Hill — which has been a bipartisan failure, over a long period of time — gives taxpayers a strong suspicion that their money is being flushed down the toilet.
That being said, I suspect that when it’s quantified so clearly — an average of $200 per year per filer — that it may not resonate with the voters as much as, say, Jon Keller thinks. Sure, folks will vote for a tax cut in the abstract, but look at the bipartisan scoffing to Sen. Frist’s proposal to write $100 checks for gas; I actually found myself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh.
The Free Lunch Four need to come clean with what they would be willing to cut to get us down to 5%. And Deval Patrick needs to find a way to assure people that he is not a free-spender. All candidates need to assure us that every tax dollar is a sacred trust, and present concrete ways that they will keep that trust.