It’s appropriate that Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of politically liberal groups hoping to bring a so-called millionaire’s tax to our state, can be referred to with the acronym RUM.
The Caribbean pirates of yesteryear were noted for drinking rum, and while their methods of enriching themselves were violent, imposing a surtax upon the very successful – who already pay most of the state’s taxes – is a modern form of piracy.
Rum was very popular among the pirates. It’s readily produced from sugarcane or molasses, is easy to store, and took the edge off after a hard day of pillaging. It was a medium of exchange in the famous triangular trade: slaves from Africa to the Americas, raw materials from the Americas to England, and textiles and rum from England back to Africa – the better to round up more natives for the slave trade.
Reay Tannahill estimates in “Food in History” that in pre-Revolutionary days Americans drank an average of three imperial gallons of rum each year, for every man, woman and child. An imperial gallon is 20 percent larger than a U.S. liquid gallon, so any way you cut it – and perhaps they didn’t cut it at all – that’s a lot of drinking.
And a lot of drinking is what I may be doing if this tax wins approval.
RUM says the money will be used for public education and infrastructure. Who could disagree with that?
I both disagree and disbelieve their claims. Only a small percentage of tobacco taxes are dedicated to anti-tobacco education. Indeed, most “dedicated” taxes in Massachusetts are not restricted, but go to the general fund. Legislators are free to appropriate them as they see fit.
Even if proceeds from a millionaire’s tax were put into Al Gore’s famous lockbox, why bother? Massachusetts already spends more than most states on public education [Editor’s note: about $4,000 more per pupil annually than the national average, as of 2013] and infrastructure.
If you don’t like the results, the solution isn’t more money, but spending reform, including eliminating prevailing wage laws and easing the strangleholds some unions enjoy on the public purse.
Voters bear responsibility for the prospect of this new tax.
More than 157,000 of you signed RUM’s petition to put the millionaire’s tax on a ballot. After all, you’re open-minded, and even if you disagree with the increase, those hardworking volunteers deserve to be heard, right?
Well, RUM has the right to gather signatures, but no one is obligated to sign. I was minding my Scrabble club one evening at Nu Café on Chandler Street when a RUM volunteer approached me in search of my signature. I walked away.
I wasn’t going to argue with him, but neither was I about to sign in the name of democracy.
Think about it this way: Would you sign a petition to confiscate, say, 75 percent of the income of anyone making $200,000 a year? How about one to legalize animal abuse? Or to deport left-handed people to the Arctic Circle?
You might object that such petitions would be absurd, violations of basic rights, and never allowed on a ballot. You are correct, but I believe that imposing higher tax rates on those who work hard to succeed – including thousands who own small businesses in Massachusetts, create jobs and pay taxes as individuals – is a violation of their economic rights.
RUM’s “4 percent” sounds innocuous but would mean a 9.15 percent rate on all income over $1 million, yielding an overall rate of 7 percent or more for some. But it would not stop there. A higher rate for the rich would be the first step toward a fully graduated income tax.
RUM and its allies, or their intellectual heirs, would next seek to create intermediate brackets. If millionaires can pay 4 percent more, why can’t those making $500,000 pay 6 percent or 7 percent?
Perhaps you favor RUM-running, and believe more revenue is the answer. But from Colonial times until the present, you have been mistaken. More revenue – whether sent to London then or to Boston now – tends to increase patronage, bureaucracy and inefficiency.
A $38.4 billion state budget – more than $5,600 for every resident of Massachusetts – is plenty, and more than enough when one deducts the inevitable corruption and waste.
Class envy and bad economics won’t improve classroom performance or rebuild roads and bridges. Today it’s millionaires; tomorrow, it will be the rest of us. That is a prescription for unlimited government.
I’ll pay my 5 percent without complaint, but prefer to keep the rest to spend as I see fit.
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