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Opinions On State Income Tax Proposition Differ At U. Massachusetts

This story was written by Domenic Poli, Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In addition to voting for the next President this November, Massachusetts residents will be deciding on a proposition to eliminate income taxes.

The income tax issue is question one of three ballot initiatives this year. If voters choose "yes," the Massachusetts state income tax will be reduced to 2.65 percent for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2009, and will be eliminated for all tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2010.

The initiative, proposed by a Massachusetts-based libertarian group called the Committee for Small Government, has the University of Massachusetts campus buzzing.

A repeal would cut $12 billion, or 40 percent, from the Bay States' revenue, and those opposed to the measure fear that voting "yes" would gravely affect public education and other services in the Commonwealth.

"I feel that it's irresponsible," said Emma Einhorn, president of the UMass Democrats. "I think people would have to be laid off, from firefighters, to 911 response workers, to public education teachers."

Einhorn said having fewer teachers would lead to larger class sizes.

She predicts that a repeal would result in "less funding for UMass, which would mean tuition hikes because we would not get as much state funding because there would be less money in the state budget. Also, scholarships could be affected," she said, adding that Medicaid, police and fire departments and good maintenance of bridges and roads could also become at risk.

Some students on the other side of the aisle also share Einhorn's concerns.

Jonathan Tabb, the treasurer and director of publicity of the UMass Republican Club, also feels that repealing the state income tax would be a bad move.

"My personal stance is that I'm not in favor of it. I would vote 'no' on it. I feel it's irresponsible," he said.

He mentioned that he supported the plan to reduce the tax from 5.75 to 5 percent over three years, which commonwealth voters elected to do in 2000. Though the legislature eventually "froze" the rollback at the current 5.3 percent rate, Tabb feels the proposal laid out in Question 1 goes too far.

He said members of the Republican Club, including the executive board, are almost perfectly split on Question 1.

Though Einhorn and Tabb worry that a lack of a state income tax will hurt public education, Rich Aucoin, the spokesman for the Committee for Small Government, argues that schools will actually benefit.

"I think it would be greatly improved because what we have now is tremendous waste at the local level due to too much state government," Aucoin said. "We're facing some very fiscally difficult times right now and people really can't afford to keep overfeeding and overspending on government. Everyone knows there's a lot of waste in government, we see it the news every day."

He said that dishonesty and a lack of transparency in how the state spends money are the reasons the state's economy is in poor shape. He accused the state of meddling in communities' business and corrupting local government.

Aucoin said a few years ago the state government told his home city of Waltham that it had a 'racial imbalance problem.' They then offered to reimburse 90 percent of the cost if the city would build eight new schools and start a busing program to insure Waltham had a diverse student population, according to Aucoin.

"The city was very happy. It was actually a great example of a melting pot. I always marveled at Waltham's ability to have some many different kinds of ethnic people living there," he said. "They came in and tried to claim wehad some kind of racial problem that was causing disharmony, when in fact they were the ones causing the disharmony, they're the ones that were causing the disfunctions."

Aucoin said that's an example of the kind of wasteful spending he hopes to cut by passing question one.

Though opposed to the income tax, Aucoin says that he and the committee have never objected to state funding for schools, maintenance and police and fire departments as far as it is necessary.

Aucoin said that public services were traditionally run at the local level and that when this concept was abandoned, it opened the door to corruption and overspending.

He also added that those who do not want the income tax repealed have distorted the facts. He said the committee wants taxpayers to get back 27 cents for every dollar, but that those opposing Question 1 say the committee is pushing for 40. He also said that the state says its budget in 2007 was $28 billion, but that the state comptroller's office lists it as $47.3 billion.

He said that the committee wants to reduce the budget to the 1999 level, when he says it was at $17 billion.

"We had a college system," he said. "We had libraries, we had schools. We want all of those to remain. All we are asking is for the politicians to cut the fat out of state government and fund only those things."

Einhorn and Tabb suggest that nixing the state income tax might force lawmakers to increase other taxes, such as those on sales and property, to regain money lost from the budget.

Seven states do not have a state income tax and New Hampshire and Tennessee apply it only to income from interests and dividends.

Though these states fund public education without taxing its citizens's income, certain other taxes are higher than the national average.

Despite Aucoin's comments, SGA president Malcolm Chu said voting "yes" could have dire consequences for the state.

"I am terribly opposed to Question 1. I feel that it is irresponsible I think that it poses a huge threat to public education as well as a lot of other public services," he said. "I'm pretty positive that it'll be extremely destructive on so many different public services that are throughout this state that will disproportionately affect millions of people in this state."