Gloucester Times: Vote ‘yes’ on Question 3

Gloucester Times

Massachusetts voters will have a chance in Tuesday’s election to finally put the brakes on the unrelenting appetite of elected officials for tax increases.

And despite many state and local officials’ hue and cry to the contrary, voters should seize this landmark opportunity.

Question 3 would mandate a cut in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent.

The referendum’s opponents — led by public employee unions, who have millions into a campaign against the move — contend it would “devastate” state services. “It goes too far!” is their mantra.

No. No, it doesn’t.

Opponents argue that the reduction would cut revenue by an estimated $2.5 billion. Yet that worst-case scenario would mark just some 5 percent of some $50 billion in state spending — hardly a “devastation” of anything, and a percentage that should be viable through carrying out pension reforms and consolidating some duplicating state departments.

Those fighting the rollback also claim that trimming the sales tax to the 3-percent mark where it once began would ravage local aid to cities and towns — with a projected loss of more than $1 million for Gloucester alone.

To that, we say, why?

A 5-percent overall spending cut should be viable without touching local aid at all, and the improving economy that would be bolstered by the sales-tax cut would generate private-sector jobs, and likely make up much of that difference.

Let’s face it: Fears of what this type of cut would bring aren’t really rooted in the need to preserve services.

They’re rooted in the desire to preserve unconscionable wage and benefit packages for public employees. If these officials really care about services, they will make the kinds of concessions those in the private sector have been making for most of this decade — savings that would provide the money needed to maintain those services.

There is an argument made that the sales tax ought to be rolled back to 5 percent — where it was 15 months ago. That’s the level being pushed by gubernatorial challenger Charlie Baker, among others.

But that’s not the question on Tuesday’s ballot — and Massachusetts politicians will never cut taxes unless they are forced to do it.

Remember 2008, when political leaders on the state and local level shrieked in horror at the prospect of a ballot question that would have brought a major cut in the state’s income tax?

We thought that, if voters backed off that proposal, lawmakers might at least have recognized the need to hold the line on new taxes and spending as some appreciation for voters’ support.

So what happened? Instead, they brought us a 25-percent sales-tax hike.

If this proposal is rejected, lawmakers will not take it as a directive to cut the tax to 5 percent. They will take it as an endorsement of 6.25 percent.

Don’t get fooled again — vote “yes” on Question 3.

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