Editorial : Tax hikes - hate them, but support them. It's a political mystery
It's difficult to credit Rep. Tim Madden's professed reluctance to side with House supporters of a $900 million state sales tax increase. Consumption taxes such as sales taxes, whatever their virtues may be at other times, are difficult to contemplate as helpful to this beleaguered state's economy. Enthusiasm for spending has diminished, along with the ability of many unemployed state residents to spend even if they have an inclination to do so. And, consumer enthusiasm is key to the state's tourist economy as well as the native economies of Mr. Madden's district, which includes Falmouth and the two islands.
"It wasn't something I wanted to do, it was something I felt I needed to do," Mr. Madden told Times writer Steve Myrick this week. "The bottom line is, we're broke. We've already cut a lot of programs, some of which I feel are absolutely essential. As much as I hate any tax, we needed to do something."
But, Mr. Madden had some bargaining power, which he might have used on behalf of his constituents. The House passed its sales tax increase measure by a veto-proof margin, but a thin margin - one vote. Perhaps Mr. Madden's. Let's hope he's banked a favor that might be put to good use in service to his constituents one day. Or perhaps, the Speaker said jump, and Mr. Madden had no choice but to answer: Whatever you say, Mr. Speaker. Either way, Mr. Madden's constituents are on the short end.
Although Gov. Deval Patrick has promised to veto the sales tax increase if it gets through the Senate and to his desk, it's hard to credit him as well. The state's in a desperate money hole, and raising revenue rather than cutting costs, especially state personnel costs, is not in favor anywhere on Beacon Hill. If Governor Patrick can rely on the legislature to impose a $900-million bill on state residents over the governor's veto, a part of the state budget hole will get filled but someone other than the chief executive will get the blame.
In general, there's nothing that Massachusetts political leaders hate to do more than raise taxes, unless it is to cut spending and particularly state payroll costs by streamlining government and reforming state agencies. Mr. Madden's argument that the governor has abused the legislature by failing to recognize the progress made by the House and Senate on reform is unpersuasive. Neither the governor nor the legislature - meaning both Houses - has delivered on promises of meaningful reform. What voters and taxpayers appear likely to hear from Beacon Hill is a lot of talk of reform and cost cutting but little action, and a lot of new taxes that will make it more difficult for every Massachusetts worker, and especially every Islander who depends on the enthusiasm of summer visitors, to climb out of the current economic downturn.