Reality of Question 1

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Elimination of the 5.3 percent state income tax will cost the state more than $12 billion a year in revenues, or about 40 percent of the budget. If enacted, this would result in major cuts in areas from highway repair and construction, to social service programs to, most dramatically, education. To save some of these programs, the property tax, that most regressive of taxes, would have to be raised. New Hampshire, with its high property taxes and schools so poor that Washington demanded the state find more funding for them, is a prime example of what happens when there is no income tax to fund necessary programs.

According to the Committee for Small Government, the group that put this initiative on the November ballot, elimination of the state income tax will return $3,600 to each worker in Massachusetts. That extra cash will not be particularly satisfying, however, if a daughter's sixth grade class in public school has doubled in size because of teacher layoffs, or if a son's UMass tuition has increased to compensate for lost funding. It's this part of the equation the Committee doesn't bring up.

The Committee, which claims on its Web site that passage will take $11 billion out of the budget, blithely asserts that this money can be made up by cutting "waste" out of the budget. It does not, however, offer a single example of this so-called "waste." The myth of billions of dollars of government waste has been promulgated over the years by politicians like Mitt Romney, who ran for governor on a pledge to eliminate government waste but couldn't find any when he got into office.

The Committee claims that with the elimination of the income tax, Massachusetts will become a "magnet" for business. In fact, businesses don't move into communities where schools are overcrowded and students are underachieving, where downtowns are deteriorating because of a lack of public investment, and where property taxes will bury their employees. Elimination of the income tax won't attract businesses like a magnet, it will repel them.

In making the case against Question 1, however, local and state officials must acknowledge that voters are hurting in this brutal economic climate, which is why the initiative will appeal to many. A similar initiative nearly passed in 2002, when times were better. Legislators must assure voters that they will strive to keep the cost of government reasonable and find savings wherever feasible.

While no one likes paying taxes, they are not a penalty but the cost paid to maintain a responsible society that meets the needs of all its members, including those of the younger generation. The simplistic and cynical Question 1 initiative is being sold as government reform, but it is not. It is a recipe for disaster.

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