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Are more taxes the answer to cuts?

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

And now the screaming starts.
And the back room lobbying efforts begin.
And a parade of members of the Legislature who want to voice their views, however politically motivated they may be, will begin lining up.
The release of Gov. Deval Patrick's budget for FY10 comes along with his announcement of 9C mid-year FY09 cuts and delivers a one-two punch to cities and towns.
It delivers a challenge to the Legislature to do several things that could help the state as well. Patrick would like to see the long-standing tax break given to telecommunications companies on their telephone poles to be eliminated. Many other states have done so, but the Legislature has dragged its feet on this one.
He wants to give cities and towns the chance to raise local revenue with additional meal and hotel room taxes. If it is passed by the Legislature not one municipality would have to enact it. It's just a tool in their kit.
That measure has already been criticized. The following is from a press release I received last week:
"'This proposal singles out restaurants at a time when they can least afford it!' said Peter Christie, CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.
"The Governor's proposal would raise the Massachusetts sales tax for restaurant meals to six percent and also allow cities and towns to impose a new one percent local option meals tax. This controversial proposal takes more dollars from residents striving to make ends meet. It taxes them on the very food that they eat as more and more people eat out, not as a luxury, but as a lifestyle necessity."
"Lifestyle necessity?" Give me a break.
Patrick has also proposed broadening the bottle bill. From a state press release: "Consumers will be required to pay an additional $0.05 cents on water, flavored waters, iced teas, coffee based drinks and sports drinks. With the additional revenue generated through this change, funds will be dedicated to Department of Environmental Protection recycling and solid waste management programs at $5 million, a 46 percent increase in funding from fiscal year 2009. Additionally, $10 million is provided for the Massachusetts Water and Sewer Rate Relief Fund, which allocates rate reductions to communities and residents served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority."
I can't see an expanded bottle bill as being controversial, but I'm sure some people will be horrified. It would help clean up the landscape by making the ubiquitous water bottle worth something.
The following proposal might be enough to make children and beer drinkers cry: "The Administration is proposing to eliminate the sales tax exemption on alcohol, candy and sweetened beverages using $25 million from the new proceeds to close the FY09 budget gap."
Is it un-American to pay tax on a Hershey bar? Or a refreshing adult beverage? Egad, sir! I think most people who drink will continue to do so even with a few cents more of tax.
Well, at least this budget didn't have anticipated revenues from non-existent casinos as Patrick's last budget did perhaps one of the most bone-headed things I've seen recently.
Instead of the typical huffing and puffing that goes on at a time like this, I'd like to see members of the Legislature forget about grandstanding and instead focus on the very real issues of what should be funded by state government, how they can be funded and if there are ways to save money. I'd like to see common sense things, such as the telecommunications tax and the bottle bill enacted. I'd like to see people thinking about regional solutions to problems and ways to save money.
For instance, should South Hadley and Granby be separate school districts each with its own superintendent? Couldn't there be some savings to those two towns if they combined their districts?
Are there cooperative efforts the four western counties could undertake that could save them money? Of course, not having a viable country government anymore may make that difficult.
And it would be nice if the state could live up to its obligations. Shouldn't the state reimburse the city of Springfield for the costs of busing students for integration purposes? They owe Springfield millions of dollars.
Perhaps I'm asking for too much, but I can still dream, can't I?
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to mdobbs@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St., E. Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.


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