By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee
“Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
They’re at it again! The Committee for Small Government has qualified to place another anti-tax question on the ballot Tuesday – this one to slash the state sales tax from 6.25% to 3%. These are the same people who brought us Question 1 in 2008, the initiative which the voters sensibly and soundly defeated – the repeal of the state income tax.
If passed, the Sales Tax Initiative would slice revenues by $2.5 billion a year on top of the billions in cuts already made during this recession.
How much is $2.5 billion?
It equals one-half of all state spending on our 1,900 public schools.
Or, looking at it another way, it is equal to two and a half times as much as the state spends each year on all our community colleges and state universities.
Massachusetts voters are used to seeing proposals about taxes on the ballot. For some voters, a referendum on cutting their taxes is like an offer of free admission to the movies. Most voters, though, understand that nothing in life comes without a cost. They want to know the impact on the commonwealth, their hometowns and cities, not just on their wallets.
For those voters, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has provided a detailed picture of the likely impact of Question 3. The title of its new report tells us where Question 3 would lead the state. It’s titled: “Heading Over the Cliff.”
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation is not a group of sky-is-falling liberals. Funded by business corporations, its orientation is fiscally conservative, in the old –fashioned sense of accurate accounting, balanced budgets and the efficient delivery of vital services. All of these notions are jeopardized by Question 3.
Proponents of Question 3 argue that the only way to stop wasteful spending on Beacon Hill is by forcing the legislature’s hand with a ballot initiative such as this. What isn’t stated is that the our legislators have already slashed $4.3 billion from the state budget! (during these last two years)
Between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2010, the state’s baseline tax revenues fell by $3.24 billion, nearly 16 percent. Even with last year’s sales tax increase from 5 percent to 6.25 percent, revenues are down 11 percent.
According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Massachusetts state spending has already been cut by more than $2 billion, and an MTF analysis concludes that a structural deficit at least that large remains. If Question 3 passes, the budget will be at least $2.5 billion deeper.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the resulting massive spending cuts would eliminate or erode a wide range of services – from education and public safety to health care and human services – that for decades the citizens of Massachusetts have counted on the government to provide,” the MTF report concludes.
Michael Widmer, president of the organization, stated that his group does not have an outright position on the ballot questions, but that, if enacted, the two tax cuts (alcohol and the sales tax), would be an “utter disaster” for the budget, due to a removal of $2.5 billion a year from the tax base. “We’ve got this huge structural deficit in fiscal 2012, even if the ballot questions aren’t approved by the voters. If they are, it’s a $5 billion hold.”
Therefore, we are asking voters to consider their vote on this issue very carefully. As we attempt to get out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we need to consider the risks involved in cutting vital services. This is not a scare tactic! The loss of billions from sales tax revenues will mean huge cuts in local aid and municipal and regional services.
Let’s examine the cuts and the impact that they would have in this state:
Public Education: Our public schools and colleges would have to absorb a hug share of the cuts. There would be massive layoffs, bigger class sizes, disruption of programs and a decline in the quality of education in our schools and colleges.
Health Care: More cuts will hurt already struggling community hospitals, school nursing services, public health initiatives and community health centers.
Quality of Life: Local aid to cities and towns would be slashed, affecting public safety (police and fire services), parks and recreation, senior services, libraries, road repairs and so much more.
Economy: By causing the sudden layoff of so many teachers, firefighters, police officers, social workers and others, while we are still coping with a recession, a cut of this size could halt – or even reverse! – the state’s economic recovery.
Property Taxes: Cities and towns would be forced to raise property taxes and seek overrides simply to maintain basic municipal services.
In Worcester, the Worcester City Council and the Worcester School Committee have gone on record seeking a NO vote on Question 3. In addition, a growing number of civic, human services, labor and business organizations across the state oppose slashing revenues from the budget. The revenues lost would have horrendous consequences for years to come, making tough times even tougher for Massachusetts families, our communities and our quality of life.
Please: VOTE “NO” TO SLASHING THE SALES TAX ON TUESDAY, November 2! Vote NO on Question 3.