by Carla Howell and Michael Cloud

Tax limitation first became popular in the late 1970s in California.

Proposition 13 rolled back property taxes and put a lid on Big Government growth in California.

Tax rollbacks and tax limitation ballot initiatives swept the nation.

In Massachusetts, the Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) initiated and passed Proposition 2½ in 1980, which limited property tax increases to 2 ½ % each year. We celebrated!

We applaud CLT’s tax cut initiatives and their role as a watchdog for State House mischief and spending excesses.

What happens when tax limitation measures succeed?

Advocates of Big Government work to undermine tax limitation laws. They amend the law to weaken it and create exceptions. They impose unfunded mandates to force future tax increases. They put bonds on the ballot to override the limitations.

CLT and other anti-tax advocates worked hard to stave off attacks on Prop 2 ½ and to minimize the growth of state and local taxes. They testified before the legislature, ran ballot initiatives, litigated, and faced off against the teachers’ unions which were lobbying for more money to deliver worse education. They won impressive battles.

Now we must build on the work of CLT and other tax limiters. We must add bold tax reduction coupled with bold spending cuts. Here’s why.

The assaults of Big Government on our life, liberty, and property, funded by our tax dollars, are endless. Federal, state, and local governments are almost doubling in size every ten years.

Budgets have grown far beyond the rates of inflation and population growth combined. Astronomical debt. Billions of dollars hoarded in rainy day funds. New and expanding government bureaucracies.

Dramatically higher taxes. Dwindling tax deductions.

New taxes on phone and internet services, utilities, gasoline, tobacco, Medicare, and all variety of government permits – to name just a few.

Businesses are increasingly burdened, sometimes to the point of bankruptcy, with new regulations, tax collection, and mandated employee benefits.

Local governments and local schools are being consumed by centralized, authoritative state and federal bureaucracies.

Why didn’t tax limitation stop the growth of Big Government? Why didn’t tax limits curb this massive growth?

Because tax limitation is designed to slow the growth of Big Government. Not to stop it. Not to freeze it. Not to make government small.

Tax limitation allows government to grow. Massachusetts property taxes grow at least 2 ½% every year. State government grows even faster.

This happened in California and in every other state that passed tax limitation.

Given the shameless demands of the Massachusetts Happy Fun Spending Club (the state legislature), would taxes be even higher today without the work of tax limiters?

Maybe. But even with tax limitation, taxes roughly doubled at both the state and local levels every ten years. Massachusetts property taxes continue to grow over 5% every year – well beyond the 2-1/2% limit set by Prop 2-1/2.

If you are satisfied to curb the growth of Big Government and to slow the rate at which taxes grow, then tax limitation is all you need.

If you want small government, or if you want to move in the direction of small government, then we must do more. We must cut taxes – boldly and immediately.

We must substantially reduce the total taxes taken by government. And with those tax cuts, we must slash spending and close down wasteful, ineffective, and damaging government bureaucracies.

We must challenge not just the presumption that government needs more of our money. We must expose the harmful results of Big Government programs already in place. As P.J. O’Rourke likes to say, ” Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

And then we must advocate proposals to substantially reduce the size, taxes, spending, and authority of big government.

There are Five Iron Laws of Big Government.

  1. Big Government doesn’t work.
  2. Big Government makes things worse, often hurting the very people it is intended to help.
  3. Big Government creates new problems.
  4. Big Government is costly and wasteful.
  5. Big Government diverts money and energy from positive, productive uses.

That’s why we must make government small!

The 2002 ballot Initiative to End the State Income Tax in Massachusetts was one attempt to make government small. It won 45.3% of the vote. It proved that there’s broad support for bold reductions in state government – even in liberal Massachusetts.

It proved that small government is possible.