2000 election will always be remembered for
hanging chads — the unloosened punch-outs
from paper ballots that confounded Florida’s
election machines en route to George W.
Bush’s narrow victory over Al Gore.
Massachusetts, we’ll remember it as the
month when more than 1.5 million voters
agreed, as if they had some say in the
matter, to reduce the state income tax rate
to 5 percent.
represented more than 56 percent of all
votes cast on Question 4 on that year's
ballot. And, for the most part, they were
years and a full generation of human history
later, that reduction still hasn’t happened.
gather paperwork to file their returns to
the Internal Revenue Service and state
Department of Revenue over the next few
months, they’ll doubtlessly notice that
Massachusetts’ income tax rate is still 5.1
percent — the same as last year. For some of
us, anyway, it will be yet another
aggravating reminder of a Legislature that
has consistently ignored the will of voters.
The vote 18
years ago called for dropping the personal
income rate from 5.95 percent to 5 percent
over three years. Two years after that,
lawmakers froze the downward trend at 5.3
percent and instead instituted automatic
triggers that would only drop the rate
further if the state met certain revenue
benchmarks. It was like a bonus plan for
taxpayers — except this isn’t a for-profit
business that rewards workers with a share
of the profits, it’s government spending
money that it takes from workers.
final, hairline step to 5 percent probably
wouldn’t save the average taxpayer enough
money to buy a couple of pizzas. State
officials estimate it would cost them $500
million. That kind of money isn’t readily
squeezed from a state budget, even at $40.2
billion. It’s understandable that hitting a
target of 5 percent might take two or three
years of effort.
Again, it has
been nearly 18 years since voters gave
Beacon Hill its marching orders — almost
enough time to create and raise a new,
uncynical adult voter.
expanse of time, one might be forgiven for
writing off as hopeless attempts to hold
lawmakers to the demands of the 2000
referendum. On the other hand, absent
periodic reminders, you can rest assured
that the Legislature won't be acting to fix
the income tax rate on its own.
So, here’s to
the Bruce Tarrs of this world. The
Republican from La Mancha files near-annual
legislation to complete the unfinished work
of the 2000 tax rollback.
have waited long enough,” said Tarr, the
Senate minority leader, who is actually from
Gloucester, in a bit of understatement while
making one of his most recent gestures a
couple of years ago.
assuredly as the Patriots will start Tom
Brady at quarterback this Sunday, his bill
died in a Legislature controlled by
Note that this
income tax rollback isn’t something that was
hatched 18 years ago and has been forgotten
in time. It’s a directive that the
Legislature has ignored time and time — and
time — again.
calling on the tax rollback was enough of a
triumph for the late Marbleheader
Barbara Anderson that it was
mentioned in her obituary. The longtime
Citizens for Limited Taxation was
even more famous for championing Proposition
2½, which limited increases on real estate
and personal property taxes. Until her death
two years ago, she lived with the
disappointment of a Legislature that had
delayed and delayed the final implementation
of this tax cut.
“It’s time to
honor the voters’ will,” Anderson told
Statehouse reporter Christian Wade in the
spring of 2015.
Indeed, it was
Whether they do it for the citizens of
Massachusetts who directed them — or in
who implored them — lawmakers should finally
deliver on the income tax cut that has now
been 18 years in the making.