or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

MA’s 2008 Statewide Ballot Question 1

   September 30th, 2008

Information for Voters booklet coverThis post ended up being much longer than I expected, so I added subheads in bold. I ask librarians to read and comment on the first part, and the rest of the post is background information.

When Does A Library Become Biased?
Last week on my library's blog, I posted information about the three questions on Massachusetts' statewide ballot in November. One of them, Question 1, calls for doing away with personal income tax in Massachusetts.

I feel the duty of libraries is to present unbiased, timely and reliable information. However, Question 1 potentially has a huge impact on Massachusetts libraries, and I'm really torn on where to draw the line on this one.

In the post, I include summaries of each question, and what a Yes or No vote would mean. However, for Question 1, we also decided to include a link to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners' stance. We did this because, since so many library services are funded by the state, if this initiative passes, library services may revert to the way things were in 1889 - yes, 1889 (read the MBLC stance to find out why).

It doesn't feel like biased information, because it is timely and from a reliable source. However, since there is such a self-interest involved, it feels kind of unseemly. Does including the link to MBLC overstep the library's role? Are libraries allowed to present the case for their own existence?

Question 1, and Why I Don't Like It
First, I have to say a few things:

  1. A similar issue was narrowly defeated in 2002
  2. New Hampshire doesn't have income tax, or sales tax, and they seem to do fine
  3. It appears my job could very well be on the line because of this initiative

In a broad sense, I can agree with parts of the initiative - Massachusetts' state government does seemed to be wasteful, and I do feel over-taxed. But this initiative seems, I don't know, kind of myopic and not realistic.

In the Information for Voters booklet [pdf] from the MA Elections Division, Carla Howell, Chair of The Committee For Small Government lists points in support of doing away with income tax:

  • Your "Yes" vote will create hundreds of thousands of new Massachusetts jobs
  • Your "Yes" vote will NOT raise your property taxes NOR any other taxes
  • Your "Yes" vote will NOT cut, NOR require cuts, of any essential government services

I haven't completly researched this issue, but I see no facts or logical basis that support the first point, and the last two seem mutually-exclusive. By taking away a major source of revenue and not replacing it, they are essentially forcing the government to cut services, many of which will be essential services.

The actual text [pdf] of the question itself also seems, I don't know, less-than-professional. The biggest goal seems to be to label Massachusetts state government as "Big Government," and repeat that phrase as many times in the question as possible, as if just by establishing that label they are assured victory.

Question 1's Impact on Patrons and Libraries
And this issue seems especially poorly-timed, too. In times of economic troubles, the idea of not having to pay income tax certainly appeals to a base sense of self-preservation. But it is precisely in times of economic troubles that the use of libraries increases.

It seems to me that, especially in times of trouble, a community is better served by comprehensive services provided by a stable government, rather than by self-interest.

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20 Responses to “MA’s 2008 Statewide Ballot Question 1”

  1. Susan Babb Says:

    You say:
    New Hampshire doesn’t have income tax, or sales tax, and they seem to do fine
    I would disagree. Property taxes are very very high in NH, schools are terrible underfunded, and additional services are random. Volunteer Fire departments are not unknown in NH! And libraries are poorly funded, ie, no state funding. All local.
    And I do live in NH!

  2. Kim H Says:

    I lived in NH for two years (2006-08) and the state functioned quite well, thank you. I even used the public library frequently and I saw no degredation of services during my time there. Stop with the scare tactics, already. Many places have volunteer fire departments even in Massachusetts (where I now live). This vote is a message to Beacon Hill that the voice of the people can not be ignored. If we have to revise our personal budgets in tough times, so do they. I’ll be voting “yes” on Question 1.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Susan: My experience with NH is mainly through friends and colleagues who live there, and have always had the impression that things were okay – never enough money, like everywhere, but not underfunded, either. I’m sorry to hear that’s not the case – and makes me worry about Question 1 even more.

    @Kim: I am all for cutting government waste and increasing efficiencies to the benefit of the people, but Question 1 seems to be so drastic and far-reaching that it will likely have much greater impact than just making the officials on Beacon Hill instantaneously better at their jobs. No doubt it would force a drastic reevaluation of the way government is run, but I’m worried about the unintended and unforeseen consequences of taking away so much funding.

  4. Shannon Says:

    If it is the responsibility of libraries to provide unbiased information, maybe we need to highlight the only unbiased statement in Question 1: “Ending the personal income tax is intended to dramatically shrink the revenue of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

    I had a good laugh over the “findings and declarations” of Question 1, which include Section 1.i.1: “Small government is simple, cheap, and good.” and Section 1.b.2: “Big Government makes people weak and dependent.” However, I stopped laughing when the purpose of this initiative was finally clearly stated. We can discuss the relative value of government programs and tax strategies, but it seems that we are really voting on is Section 1.h. What are all the consequences (good or bad) of reducing MA’s revenue?

  5. Kim Says:


    What sort of funding should not be taken away? Need the government (ie. you and me) pay for everything? Or have we become so used to subsidies we really don’t know the real cost of services? Should we pay more for the MBTA? Should public HS students receive free healthcare services like birth control? Can we eliminate the number of police details? These are questions that taxpayers and politicians should be asking and we haven’t been doing that.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kim: I agree that government can be made more efficient; I just think that that Question 1 is too drastic a way to accomplish it. It seems that if you want to improve government, you first need to identify the programs that are wasteful, and then eliminate those. Blindly cutting funding without knowing what will be cut as a result (for instance, the services libraries offer) just seems like a bad approach.

    I also don’t get the connection between Question 1 and the claim that it “will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.” I keep reading that Question 1 will save individual tax payers about $3,700 per year on the personal income tax, which could mean people will have more disposable income. But I don’t see such a strong link between personal income tax and job creation that there will, with absolute certainty, be “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs. It’s not like I’m going to suddenly go out and hire someone myself, so I don’t see where these jobs are coming from. But I hope it is true, because if Question 1 passes, I can think of a lot of library employees who might lose their jobs, and I don’t think saving $3,700 a year is going to feed their families.

  7. Bill Says:

    Check out this website to try to do a budget for the state if Q1 passes:


    It’s a real extreme measure that would do more harm than good.

  8. Phr00t Says:

    Please vote NO on Question 1.

    It offers no specifics, and says nothing about waste. It only says to slash the state budget significantly and recklessly. If we want to clean up our government, we need to be specific — so important services and jobs will not be cut. As Question 1 stands now, it is a huge win for the rich who will see the most benefit… while again, the middle-class get screwed when their services dwindle.

    Please, vote NO on Question 1. I say this as a Massachusetts tax payer.

  9. S Says:

    Can anyone please give me an exact number on how much my property taxes will go up if question one passes(don’t say drastically), and where will this money go?????

  10. Brian Herzog Says:

    @S: As far as I know, property taxes cannot legally be raised because of Proposition 2-1/2. I don’t know much about it, but it since this money needs to come from somewhere (and property taxes is where NH gets its money), then if Question 1 passes, this might be fair game.

    Something else I learned recently is that that $3,700 figure people are supposed to save on their income tax applies to people making more than $75,000/year. As a librarian I don’t make anywhere close to that, so I doubt I’d see that $3,700 Question 1 supports are telling everyone they will save.

    Also, MA Gov. Deval Patrick just announced job and service cuts from the state budget already – Question 1 will just make additional cuts that much more necessary and dramatic.

  11. elijah Says:

    I am tickled to read the fear and trepidation in so many of your words. You have become exactly what “Big Government” needs you to be. It seems that everyone agrees Massachusetts is a wasteful sloth of a government, however, many of you still seem convinced that your world will disolve without it. You seem to feel entitled to the “essential” government services doled out by our admitedly wasteful pols. Those “essential” services which I don’t seem to use much of. Regardless, the cycle will repeat and you and I will overpay for someone else’s great idea, until we are broke and there isn’t enough to pay for any more good ideas, so taxes increase again. The problem isn’t which services are essential and which are not, we already know that other fine states can support a great quality of life with a fraction of the tax revenue this state recieves. This problem is fundamental. It is axiomatic that governments by nature seek more control. It is axiomatic that taxes rise to meet spending. It is axiomatic Government does nothing which is both inexpensive and done well. This end was never government’s purpose, yet somehow we have come to this very debate.

    This law is INTENDED to throw a molitov cocktail at the feet of our state legislators, and perhaps those who still don’t get it. RUN! Scramble! Find a way to pay for roads, police and public works without the waste you are so accustomed to. Function! Do what other states do! You are NOT entitled to my paycheck to support programs YOU feel to be essential. You are NOT entitled to tax my income to the point where my discretionary income is no longer available to me. You are not to spend my living creating jobs, the free market does a MUCH better job of that. You are not allowed to decide how to spend my income on your unique-to-the commonweatlth “essential” programs. The state is NOT to control the remainder of my paycheck after food, housing and utilities have been paid. You are not allowed to distribute social aid on my behalf to the point where none is left to help my own family, church and friends in their times of need.
    This initiative will not end state revenue, this initiative will not bankrupt the taxpayer. The state will have to re-examine the relationship between the government and the governed and make major consessions. In the cradle of liberty, the state where our founders declared war over these principles; don’t you think it’s about time?

  12. Tom C Says:

    If I vote yes on Question 1 where will the money come for the much needed social services already strapped? Homeless, mentally ill along with a long list of other disabilities such as HIV/AIDS. Alot of these people not only need help but they need advocates to get them the help as they wouldn’t be able to do it on their own. We have a responsibility to all of society – especially the marginalized. Where would this money come from?

  13. leo taylor Says:

    It appears the groups behind voting NO are the unions. I have to ask why? Is it because they will lose some jobs…pay more for health care….get smaller pensions…Maybe its time for the state workers to wake up and smell the coffee!! The tax payers are already losing jobs, paying for health car, and in a lot of cases do NOT have pensions. We cannot continue to support these benifits. The group behind defeating this is the Coalition for our Communities. What a nice name so I ask myself who is this group? I did some research and to my surprise it is the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO who represent 750 unions which has over 400,000 members is behind it not your average tax payer. In their ADs why are they hiding behind another name? They are trying to fool you and I. They may try to scare you of the unknown but ask yourself why is this group pouring over $2 million into defeating this question. They are out for their known best interest which comes from our pockets! I will be voting YES! If passed the state will have to become more thrifty with the spending. If the end results in the sales tax going up so be it. At least we will be spreading it out beyond residence to visitors coming into our state. I’m willing to take my chances and vote YES!

  14. paulunion Says:

    Why is Associated Industries of Massachusetts opposed to Question 1?
    Supporters need to indicate what public services they can live without, because a cut of 12,700 Million dollars…$12.7Billion… is not something you can just “economize” your way out of. Public Libraries are prime cases for elimination.

  15. Zman Says:

    Before we drive over the cliff with this question we should review just what goes on in Mass.
    We now know that 41% of every tax dollar is wasted in Mass.
    We know that real estate not income taxes pay for local services such as teachers, firefighters, police and DPW.
    We know that most of the money each town receives from the state is “cherry sheet” funds provided by the Mass Lottery.
    So why do our property taxes need to go up if we end the income tax? It should not.
    What the people want who understand this question and all that it entails is a return to what our founders wanted. Strong local government, weaker state and even weaker federal government. However, this has been reversed by tax policy. Do you think you can better spend your own money at a Town Hall meeting or do you think the state can do it better?
    So what is the state’s response to this if it passes? It will be to punish us by dragging out the handicaped, (Deval started this two weeks ago)and preparing us for the apocolypse(sp) and as one person stated above the state will keep the hacks and lay off the real workers.
    But is it not the time to stand up to our government. I don’t mean in a radical sense, but look at what Wall Street just cost us. People leading the good life raking in millions in salaries and leaving us to pick up the tab.
    This is how our government works. Do you think that politicians are in Washington to serve us or make a business out of being in government.
    So in conclusion, the loss of the income tax should not change your town services or raise your real estate tax, the state will punish us for a while but if we hang tough the loss of income should clean up our one party state. It is the only power we have.

  16. Zman Says:

    One more thing.

    How many of you in western Mass ride the “T”
    How many of you in western Mass drive through the big dig (at 16 billion over budget)?
    How many of you in western Mass get your water from the MWRA?
    How many of you in western Mass cleaned up Boston harbor?

    Answer: You may think you didn’t but you did!

  17. Matt Says:

    I’m with Zman. I’m willing to take my chances. Yes services would be cut but we all know that a lot of these services cost way more than they have to. Not to mention the T is bankrupt because of ridiculously high salaries and pensions and poor fare collection on the green line. Not to mention that property taxes already pay the vast majority of the police (many of whom work on wasteful details), fire, and schools. So we raise sales taxes. What’s unfair about that? People who make more spend more and they would still pay more taxes than those who don’t make as much. But what is really needed is drastic cuts. Fire up the grill because I think the Governor is going to have to burn some fat on Nov. 5th. I’m happy to help. Vote Yes on 1

  18. Brian Herzog Says:

    The funny thing is that I actually agree with a lot of what Zman and elijah and other supports say – I do think there is waste in government, which needs to be improved. I just don’t agree that Question 1 is a good way to go about it.

    Question 1 seems akin to disliking a movie, and throwing a molotov cocktail into the theater – it’s not going to magically make the movie better, it’s just going to make a lot of innocent people suffer. Whoever threw it might feel better about themselves for getting the movie out of their town, but they didn’t really address the real problem – just a symptom of the problem.

    Real reform means sustainable reform, which will come in the form of legislated spending laws and voting bad politicians out of office. It can be dramatic while still being logic, intelligent and level-headed – slash-and-burn/fend-for-yourself tactics are far too Ayn Rand-ish for a public librarian like myself.

    Perhaps my community-mindedness is the reason I don’t mind my taxes going towards statewide projects like highways, mass transit, and parks. I don’t take the T very often, but I like knowing it’s there in Boston when I need it. I don’t drive Route 2 very often, but I know that if I want to go hiking at Mount Greylock, not only will the road there be passable and safe, but Mount Greylock State Park will also be safe and well-maintained.

    Same thing with the Cape, central MA, and every other part of the state. I don’t want my taxes squandered on unnecessary or poorly-managed projects, but cutting off the nose to spite the face is not how a government should be run.

  19. Jon W Says:

    You write about a “base sense of self-preservation” and seem an excellent example. The library is a core component of freedom and I hope that regardless of whether you manage to keep the government nipple, your love for the free availability and open distribution of ideas will drive you to maintain a library in your community.

  20. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jon: You’re right – all along I’ve indicated that I’m coming at this from the point of view of someone who might lose their job if Question 1 passes. So the idea of voting for something that will reduce income tax is lost on me, since it might cost me my income entirely.

    But what’s worse is that there’ll be lots of other unemployed librarians, and very few library jobs. Which means that in order to support my household, I’ll have to move to another state – very likely along with teachers, firemen, police, and many other public servants. Question 1 doesn’t reduce the need for these services, just the ability to provide them. Reducing the state population might just be an unintended consequence.

    As for maintaining a library if Question 1 does pass, I (and I’m sure every other librarian) will do what we can. But keeping libraries open is why a lot of library people are coming out against Question 1, instead of just waiting around to pick up the pieces if it passes. But if it did pass, there’s only so much that could be done. We can’t work for no pay, but I suppose that’s the best way to avoid income taxes.