Tax-cut advocate Barbara Anderson dies; ‘Mother’ of Prop 2 1/2

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Massachusetts lost a true taxpayers’ champion Friday with the passing of Barbara C. Anderson.

Anderson was the driving force behind 1980’s Proposition 2 1/2, the signature law that forced the Bay State down the road to shedding its well-deserved “Taxachusetts” moniker, and the champion of many subsequent tax-cutting or limiting measures. She succumbed to leukemia Friday at 73, according to Citizens for Limited Taxation, the group she led for decades.

While she counted herself a libertarian, both Republican and Democratic political leaders offered words of respect and praise, using

“Barbara was a force of nature and a tireless advocate for taxpayers,” Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said on Twitter. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Anderson “will always be remembered for tireless efforts for taxpayers and as a principled woman of conviction.”

“Sad to hear of the passing of Barbara Anderson, a longtime advocate who stood up for what she believed in,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “She will be missed.”

For Anderson, party establishments were often the real foes of her insurgent campaigns. In a recent article, reprinted on her advocacy group’s website, she recalled that the 1964 presidential contest delivered an important lesson that she never forgot:

“That year was my first campaign, as I pushed my newborn son’s carriage around the neighborhood passing out Goldwater flyers,” she wrote in the March 10 post, referring to GOP candidate Barry Goldwater. “Slowly I learned that fiscal conservatives were hated by the Republican establishment as well as by the socialist-leaning Democrats. How can you build a Washington, D.C., lobbyist-run power base if you can’t tax, spend and borrow unlimited amounts?”

Before Prop. 2 1/2, the Bay State ranked behind only Alaska and New York in terms of the burden imposed by state and local taxes, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. State and local authorities took nearly 14 percent of the personal income of Massachusetts residents in 1977.

Prop. 2 1/2 changed that scenario. The ballot measure capped property tax growth to 2.5 percent a year, based on market value. Not a lot, it may seem, but it marked the beginning of a trend that led to income-tax rate cuts years later and was instrumental in pushing down the overall tax burden to about 10 percent of personal income by 2012, putting Massachusetts in the middle ranks nationwide and burying the Taxachusetts epithet.

Anderson never rested on that victory, however, as she pushed for income-tax cuts and won several of those battles as well during the 1980s. And while the Marblehead resident freely expressed her views on a wide range of issues in the media over the years, she relentlessly focused on limiting taxation as a way of curbing the reach of government and empowering individual liberty.

“We here all understand what socialism is,” she wrote in a March 10 article. “You work hard, the government takes as much of your hard-earned money as possible, gives it to other people to empower politicians and government bureaucrats, and eventually you too need government help in order to survive.”

Setting aside her libertarian allegiance, Anderson said she and her longtime partner, Chip Ford, voted for Ted Cruz, the Senator from Texas, in the Republican presidential primary on March 1. In a March 2 article, she cited the Texan’s record on the federal deficit and reining in government spending, including actions that set him apart from virtually every other Republican in Congress:

“The candidate most likely to address the deficit/national debt is Ted Cruz because he already kept his word to his Texas constituents on those subjects; he ran to become a tea party U.S. senator then led the fight against raising the debt ceiling,” Anderson wrote. “If I had run for U.S. Senate that tea party year, I would have stood with Ted, and there would be two senators that other senators detest.”

Despite her ardent advocacy for tax cuts and limits on government spending, liberal commentators in the media voiced their respects as news of her death spread Saturday.

“A political force of nature: never seen before, never to be seen again,” Jim Braude, a liberal commentator on WGBH radio and television stations, said on Twitter. “I’ll miss her!”

Often referred to as as “taxpayer champion,” Anderson in her own words saw things a bit differently: To those who do the work should go the rewards, while government spending must be restrained for the good of all.

“I get those big truths that liberals think we should all understand,” she said in the March 2 post. “The world has changed. But I would argue that truth does not change. Spending more than can be raised is bad. No matter what the other issues, uncontrolled debt makes it impossible to responsibly address them.”

Writing last month while fighting her illness, Anderson quoted lyrics from “Long Road Out of Eden,” a song by The Eagles, in a column addressed to the young people of today:

But I must be leavin’ soon
It’s your world now
Use well the time
Be part of something good
Leave something good behind
The curtain falls
I take my bow
’s how it’s meant to be
It’s your world now.”

Barbara Anderson, who fomented a tax revolt that echoes to this day, certainly lived up to those words.