Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Did Deval Even Promise to Lower Taxes?

From the campaign trail, I remember certain statements about property taxes - such as "we need to keep property taxes under control," etc. Because people kept challenging him on how whe would do that, he created a plan that would have at least some small effect: if cities and towns didn't raise property taxes, they'd get more state aid. It wasn't enough aid to compensate for lost property tax revenue, but likely enough to lure some municipalities who were in good fiscal shape. There must be one or two of those towns out there, right?

Property taxes became a huge problem after our former Canadian Ambassador - I mean Governor - led the fight to cut the state income tax. There wouldn't be any problems, Paul Cellucci said. We could afford it, he said. Whoops. What happened was that the lost city and town state aid, because of cut taxes and a few bad fiscal years, meant almost all of Massachusetts had at least one property tax override. Most of those cities and towns had to cut important, key services to boot.

So when Deval Patrick said, 'we can't afford an income tax cut,' and 'we need to focus on property taxes,' I didn't take that as meaning 'we are going to cut property taxes.' What kind of logic is that? It means that there *has* to be a tax cut - a cut, of any kind, we can't afford. Suddenly, on the campaign trail, the center position became cutting taxes slowly. You were a marxist, communist evil-dictator wannabbe if you wished to maintain the status-quo. It was down-right assumed we needed a tax cut, and why? It begins with M and ends with IA. There's an E and a D somewhere too. Heck, some may even blame it on a Boston-based newspaper named after a synonym for a sphere.

So if Deval Patrick made a few statements that were up for interpretation, could anyone blame him? I don't know any other hardcore supporter who honestly expected Deval Patrick to come up with a way to fairly and adaquately reduce every single town's property taxes. How would you even begin to do that? If you cut everything across the board would that be fair? Some towns and cities were willing to pass overrides every other year to make sure their kids were learning their ABCs - and getting music lessons. Other municipalities were willing (eager?) to let them suffer. Don't the towns who raised their taxes into the stratosphere deserve a bigger cut than the localities who weren't even willing to keep core programs running afloat? However, with so many municipalities in Massachusetts, it would be a herculean task to figure that all out.

It was the media who took statements like "we need to get property taxes under control," and turned it into "Deval Patrick promises to cut property taxes." Maybe what Deval Patrick had in mind - this whole time - was a slightly different tact. Give enough state aid that cities and towns could afford to maintain the status quo in funding. That way, within a few years, cities and towns would be back into the situation where the tax rates were at least somewhat fair. It's not an horrible idea: before Mitt Romney was around, state colleges and universities freezed tuition and fee hikes for years on end. During that time, Bay State higher education went from one of the most expensive and worst to average and average. It wasn't until Mitt Romney and key state Senators and Congressmen who were more than willing to slash the UMASS budget that we saw a reversal over the past 4 years.

There are two ways I took Deval's frequent campaign statements. First, we need to make sure local aid won't be slashed again. Slashing local aid will only mean another spike in property taxes across the state, which have proven to be far more costly (and far less progressive) than the state income tax cuts. Second, our system of taxes is - to put it mildly - flawed. There's so much reliance on property taxes that it endangers our cities and towns. From what I heard on the campaign trail, I get the feeling Deval is thinking of ways to reduce that burden. If anything revolutionary comes out of those thoughts, I'll be pleasantly surprised. For now, I'm just excited to have someone who's thought about the subject. I can almost assure all my readers that Mitt Romney, Jane Swift, Paul Cellucci and Bill Weld didn't. (If they did, we probably wouldn't be in this mess to begin with - that was 16 years of potential reform they had, turning out into 16 years of exacerbating the situation.)

So when the Boston Globe essentially has a headline calling Deval Patrick a liar, I get a little peeved. They jumped at calling Deval's statements a public call to cut property taxes. They took it as meaning he was the one who is going to do that. At the core, reform has to come from the people who need it. Towns and cities need to be demanding new and better ways to fund town services, especially education. They need to lead on this front, not just one man. Instead, we have towns and cities bickering about who deserves more aid. We have formulas based on a town's income, not on how stingy their citizens are (plenty of wealthy towns have turned down one too many override because, apparently, art class isn't worthy of their tax dollars - and neither is math). Let this be a lesson to take any Globe headline or article with a little grain of salt, because the truth is always in the eye of the beholder - and taking a few sentences way out of context can turn mean you're "hedging" on your so-called promises, if ever you get into a public position.

3 comments:

John said...

He said on many ocassions "The tax to cut is the property tax." I guess you can interpret that any way you like, it certainly sounds like a promise to me.

Ryan Adams said...

Right, but that doesn't mean he even implied that he - personally - would cut it. Ultimately, towns and cities are responsible. What he can do, as Governor, is help create policies condusive to stabilizing property taxes.

Peter Porcupine said...

Implied?

Of course he did.

Have the power?

Of course he doesn't.

Capitalize on the fact that people don't understand the difference?

Why not?

Cope as the chickens come home to roost?

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

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