Death and Taxes

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That certainly didn’t take long.

As the state of Massachusetts combats COVID-19, as small businesses remain shuttered or severely restricted, as churchgoers worship under drastic limitations, and as unemployment soars, it took little time for liberals to resort to their boiler-plate solution for every problem:  Raise taxes.

That’s right. At a juncture when personal liberties face restrictions, family businesses go bankrupt, workers lose jobs, students cannot attend school, and families lack traditional access to sacraments and prayer services, the liberal solution is to blame the victims by hiking their taxes. 

Despite all the rhetoric about shared sacrifice, progressives ask, “Why not add to their misery?”

Of course, the victims of both the pandemic and the government reaction or overreaction are not the only ones involved. Politicians and bureaucrats are readying themselves to pounce upon any pot of revenue at the end of the coronavirus.

As cover for the politicians, the latest tax levy proposals come not from your garden variety partisans, but from a group of intellectuals who essentially operate as the ivory-tower wing of the Democrat Party. Ninety-one economists signed a May 26 letter to Governor Charlie Baker, Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Karen Spilka. The signatories sum up their demands in the line, “We the undersigned encourage you to raise revenue.”

In the case of Democrat power-brokers DeLeo and Spilka, raising tax revenue comes as naturally as breathing. 

In floating the Democrat trial balloon, the affluent liberal economists take direct aim at the wallets of working families. “A one percentage point increase in the income tax,” the economists rapaciously proclaim, “could raise $2.5 billion per year.” 

That’s an interesting sleight of hand. An old adage popularized by Mark Twain talks about “lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The purported “one percentage point” tax increase is actually a whopping 20 percent raid on workers’ paychecks. When the state income tax rate jumps from 5% to 6%, that’s nothing short of an effective 20% tax hike.

With food and grocery items, essential cleaning materials, paper products, and other everyday prices rising in response to the government lockdown, any state income tax hike would add to the cost of living for middle and working class families; it might best be labeled TaxFlation.

The 91 economists need not worry about their own comfortable prospects. After all, half of them are employed by the taxpayers through the University of Massachusetts at campuses in Boston, Amherst, Lowell, and Dartmouth. Their tax hike appetites verify the most reliable indicator of practical economics:  Self-interest. Or, in popular terms, “Looking out for Number One.”

By levying taxes on working families, the college professors are securing their own status and prosperity, along with their future salaries and benefits, which far exceed those of average wage earners. Their proposal reeks of Gordon Gekko’s Wall Street maxim:  “Greed is good.”

In fact, UMass routinely doles out the highest salaries among all state bureaucracies. According to reports, 97 of the Top 100 salaries in 2018 were gobbled up at UMass, while the same institution pocketed 64 of the Top 65 one year later. That’s more than greed; that’s a monopoly!

Forget about the top One Percent of Americans. UMass has politically connected bosses like former Democrat congressman and current UMass president Marty Meehan, whose pay plus benefits will soon exceed $1 million annually. Meanwhile at UMass Medical School, a pair of bureaucrats already eclipse that stratospheric seven-figure number.

Needless to say, the economists’ income tax proposal aims to protect such gilded compensation packages, at the expense of ordinary workers whose average per capita incomes fall more than 90 percent below the UMass millionaires club. 

Among the letter signers are a UMass dean who annually pulls down nearly a quarter of a million dollars, various economics professors who top the $170,000 figure, and still others who must scrape by on $157,000. When pensions, health insurance, vacations, and other benefits are calculated, the total bill paid by taxpayers never ends.

In recent decades, across-the-board tax hikes have become the exclusive preserve of the Democrat Party in Massachusetts. When taxpayer-funded economists lobby for massive personal income tax increases, they are clearly advancing a scheme that gives a veneer of intellectual cover to the coming tax hikes courtesy of Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Spilka, and other legislative insiders. 

This season’s craving for taxes carries more than a whiff of morbidity. As liberal economists and their Democrat allies are readying tax hikes, COVID-19 has already brought too much sickness and death to households across the Commonwealth. Listening attentively, one hears a grim reminder of Benjamin Franklin’s indelible observation:  “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” 


Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read other columns by Mr. Tortelli here.