I also question her “MA is 8th or so in tax burden.” She doesn’t think the other methodology for measuring works (the one that puts MA 37th or thereabouts). She thinks measuring by per-$1000 percentages is the wrong way to do it. That it’s the total amount of dollars. She’s wrong. In fact, the argument that this website makes against the per-$1000 measurement actually makes my argument for me (bold mine):
Many low-income states rank very high on the list of tax burden per $1,000 of personal income. For example, New Mexico, North Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho, and South Carolina all rank higher than California. Why? Because personal income and population density in those states are low, and it takes a higher proportion of their incomes merely to provide a basic level of government and infrastructure. More densely populated and higher income states, like California, spread those costs over a greater tax base, allowing a slightly lower tax burden per $1,000 of personal income.
Yeah, and? Living in a prosperous state means that revenues are bigger for the same percentage of income. If you live in Nebraska and make $1000 and are taxed 12%, versus living in MA and being taxed 9% of that $1000, your tax burden (the percent you pay of your income) is worse. If you live in MA and have a 9% burden but make three times as much as the person in Nebraska, your total dollars paid will be higher but it’s still a proportionally smaller amount of your total income.
Therefore, measuring total dollars is the incorrect measure, not the percent per $1000, and Howell is so wrong about our tax burden in Massachusetts. And, to boot, I’ll take our standard of living and median income over Nebraska’s any day of the week. We have, for our larger available budget (and MA’s prosperity is the reason why we send out more federal tax dollars than we get back – because it helps Nebraska make up the burden they face as a less prosperous state), one of the best education systems in the country, some of the best infrastructure. My friend was mentioning today that when she moved to MA from VA, she remarked on how much better we treat our seniors here than there, with low-income senior housing readily available. Not so in other states. We have a decent (though constantly under fire) public transportation system.
All of which is threatened by Howell’s Committee and its ballot question.
Next, she says there is at least 40% waste in the state budget, but she couldn’t name any specific instance, or number, or anything, in her hour with us. She mentioned overpaid contracts, hackery, and the like, but without saying what percentage of the budget each item of complaint takes up. Just some vague “there’s a there, there.” Sure, but is it 1% of the state budget? 10%? Are the costs actually justified and you just don’t understand why they might be?
Lastly, and a point on which I wholeheartedly agree with Howell, is the lack of transparency in the budgeting process and the need to measure what government is accomplishing (which, by the way, takes overhead, and cutting spending doesn’t solve that problem does it?). Progressives are all for this, and have constantly advocated for it, whether that’s fixing the redundancies in the so-called quasi-independent agencies like the Mass Turnpike Authority or asking for better access to the legislative process.
However, and this is the key point that ties Howell not to a desire to merely rid the government of waste and abuse, but to rid the state of government itself, is that the Committee for Small Government is talking about waste and opacity in selling us Question 1, but aiming for something that will do anything but fix this. What will a 40% drop in revenues do to fix the problems of transparency in the legislature or waste in spending? Not a thing.
If eliminating waste, gaining transparency, and measuring efficiency was the central raison d’être, the impetus, the very belief core for getting Question 1 on the ballot, a method which will not accomplish that stated goal (though she claims that Gov. Patrick is going through the state trooper/Turnpike Auth reorganization because of the fact this is on the ballot – what a gianormous stretch)…anyway, if this was the motivation behind this initiative, wouldn’t these things be much better accomplished by proposing a ballot question which requires line-by-line budget transparency by government? Imagine for a moment you are approached by a petitioner, asking you to sign to support a ballot initiative which will force the legislature to adhere to certain standards of accounting and transparency, to justify spending based on measurements of previous spending…you would sign in a heartbeat. I would too. Blogs and activists on both sides of the aisle would be clamoring to spread the word. Imagine the percentage that ballot question would pass by. Imagine the message that would send. We can disagree on what we want government to do, but we would at least be able to have the discussion about that instead of whether or not there’s waste and transparency and graft.
However, that’s not the route these guys took. Why? Because they are selling the snake oil of the elimination of waste. But that’s not the real reason to cut out the legs from our government. Indeed, the answer lies right in the name of their committee – the Committee for Smaller Government. They don’t think government should deliver the services that most average people think they should get. But if they told you that, you would never vote to kill 40% (really, 70% after you account for required budget spending) of the state’s revenues.
They took a page from George W. Bush, who called his pro-lumber bill Healthy Forests Initiative, or his pollution-increasing bill Clear Skies. If you knew their true motivations, the real outcome they are hoping to achieve, you would vote no on Question #1 in November.