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Question 4 Seeks to Lower Income Tax to Five Percent

By Naveen Sunkavally

EDITOR IN CHIEF

With only a few more days before elections, Question 4, which calls for rolling back the state income tax from 5.85 percent to 5 percent over the next three years, looks poised to pass. A poll in The Boston Globe from Oct. 30 shows 56 percent of the voting public in favor of the question, with only 26 percent opposed to it.

Supporters of the proposal, including the Tax Rollback Committee, which put the question on the ballot, believe that passing the question is a simple matter of honoring a promise made by the legislature eleven years ago.

“Eleven years ago [when the economy was in a recession] the legislature increased taxes from 5 percent with the promise” that it would be lowered again when the economy recovered, said Bobby Matthews, a spokesman for the Tax Rollback Committee. “We’ve had eight years of budget surpluses; at some point, we have to give back the money.”

However, opponents of Question 4 believe that promise was never made. Jack McCarthy of the Campaign for Massachusetts’ Future, which opposes Question 4, said that some legislators may have made promises eleven years ago, but the legislature as a whole never agreed to honor the promise. In fact, a 1989 amendment making the promise law was not passed by the legislature, McCarthy said.

Moreover, McCarthy contends that a tax cut at this point in time would severely cut down on the state’s ability to fund education and health care initiatives, and on the state’s ability to pay down its debt -- the fourth largest in the country.

McCarthy said rather than offering a tax cut that would mostly help the wealthy, the money could be used to reduce class sizes, fix old school buildings, and ensure health care coverage for everyone. “The wealthiest 1 percent get more back than the bottom 60 percent,” he said, referring to the proposed tax cut.

Matthews, on the other hand, described the idea that the tax cut would benefit the wealthy more than it would benefit the middle class as “pure folly,” and he described the tax cut as “scrupulously even-handed.” It would benefit the wealthy more, but only because the wealthy were the ones paying more when the original hike eleven years ago was put in place, he said.

In addition, Matthews said that education and health care are not reasons to oppose Question 4. “We have the second best student-to-teacher ratio” in the nation and a very low rate of uninsured people. “We have programs already in place to provide health insurance for everyone,” Matthews said.

As an added benefit, Matthews said that lowering taxes would serve to stimulate the economy by making Massachusetts more attractive in getting workers from other states.

On the other hand, McCarthy said that the way to make workers better qualified and Massachusetts more competitive with other states is to increase education spending.