Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Taxpayers: Still in a giving mood, or had enough?

When we Republicans got our you-know-whats handed to us in November's election, many of us were shell-shocked and pretty damn confused.

Here we were, just coming out of a recession that left people with less of everything -- less jobs, less of a paycheck and less money for groceries and other living expenses. Our unemployment rate was a whopping 8 percent, and getting gas meant emptying your wallet or loading up your credit card with close to what it costs to feed your family for a week.

We looked at the political landscape last fall thinking there was no way Republicans could possibly lose. And, then, it happened. We were wrong. Really wrong. Republicans lost, and lost badly.

Then, we started to second-guess ourselves. How on Earth could a majority of voters cast their ballots for people who wanted to make life more expensive for everyone in the form of taxes and health insurance mandates? Was it that those who voted Democratic were wealthier than they were letting on, so the sting didn't hit them? Did they understand that they had a choice, that they could vote for people who wanted to keep money in citizens' wallets, rather than asking them to hand it over to the government?

Or was this a Republican problem? Had our party become so undesirable that taxpayers turned their noses up at us despite our fervent desire to keep their taxes and cost-of-living low? Did people choose candidates who think exactly the opposite just because of the “D” after their name?

Analysis showed us that while many Americans were thinking of their wallets when they voted, that wasn't what ultimately made up their minds when they stepped into the voting booth. Instead, they were thinking about issues like abortion. Same-sex marriage. Immigration. Contraception. Those awful comments about rape uttered by Republican Todd Akin were ringing in their ears much louder than any conservative fiscal argument made by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

While these social issues absolutely affect the world and get at the heart of how people believe we should treat others in society, basic pocketbook issues affect whether people can provide for their family. Everyone has a bottom line. Everyone has to buy groceries at some point. Pretty much everyone needs to use some sort of transportation to get to work or school or wherever they spend their day. Most have to pay some sort of tax or fee to the government.

Perhaps you could argue that a majority of voters were thinking unselfishly by voting based on social issues rather than the health of their own wallet. But is there a tipping point? Is there a point where people simply do not have the money to pay the rising bill the government issues for just existing as a citizen and change their vote accordingly? Will 2014 be the year when voters finally say they've had “enough?”

Charlie Baker asked people the same question in 2010 with his slogan "Had Enough?", and voters responded by essentially saying, "no." They wanted more, and since then, they've gotten it.

Just after Obama won re-election, the payroll tax increased, taking a 2 percent -- or $700 annual -- chunk out of the average worker's paycheck. Perhaps $700 over an entire year doesn't sound like a lot to some people, but it would likely cover the bill for that damage your car sustained after hitting that gaping pothole on 93.

Then you have the expected increases coming in your healthcare premium, courtesy of Obamacare. Some are saying the increases could be as much as double what you're paying now, particularly if you are a small-business or individual paying for your own health insurance. We don't know how that affects you personally, but for one of us here, that would mean our health insurance would cost more than our rent.

It is almost certain that if premiums increase by this much, more Massachusetts residents will have to rely on MassHealth to cover their health costs. And that will require more revenue from everyone else to pay for that influx of new enrollees.

Now today, Massachusetts Democrats are announcing a new transportation plan that, yes, is going to mean raising revenue, a/k/a, taxes.

How will the average resident afford all these increases? Especially those who are perhaps just getting their feet back under themselves after a job loss? Is there some point -- some tipping point -- where they say, “Enough is enough, I have no more to give, I will no longer vote for candidates who want to raise taxes?”

Yes, Massachusetts is a liberal state and increasing taxes to grow government is obviously more accepted here than other places. But residents simply cannot have bottomless wallets, even if they have strongly charitable feelings for the government.

It seems maybe Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo seems to think voters do have that tipping point.

According to a recent State House News Service story, DeLeo called together Democratic House members at the Omni Parker House to talk to them about the need to raise taxes in the coming year. In the same meeting, he talked about the need to raise money for next year's election.

We're guessing, and we think DeLeo is, too, that major tax increases will mean a new crop of Republican candidates challenging Democratic members. And, we're guessing, that most of these Republicans will use affordability (or the lack thereof) as the main part of their platform. But, the question is, unless voters have reached the tipping point and are willing to vote based on affordability, will enough people be listening to make a difference?

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