Where have all the anti-tax advocates gone?
Are they needed anymore?
BARBARA ANDERSON Barbara Anderson used to prowl the halls of the State House with a vengeance whenever lawmakers started thinking about raising taxes or tinkering with her now-33-year-old baby, Proposition 2 1/2. She would position herself outside the House or Senate chamber, look the solons in the eye, and make sure they knew someone was watching. Her quick wit and her street-fighter sensibilities made her a formidable foe.
Today, however, Anderson is barely seen on Beacon Hill. With her red hair turned gray, the 70-year-old executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation rarely visits the State House any more. She’s as feisty as ever, but now she works the phones from her home in Marblehead and writes newspaper columns. Her in-your-face anti-tax approach is gone at a time when Gov. Deval Patrick and most of the state’s liberal establishment are pushing for a $1.9 billion tax increase to stabilize and expand the state’s transportation network and finance heavy investments in education.
No one has filled Anderson’s shoes. Someone may emerge from the meetings she holds once a month in Lexington for conservative leaders; the sessions are modeled after the Wednesday Morning Group in Washington hosted by her ideological soulmate, Grover Norquist of the Alliance for Tax Reform. A relatively new anti-tax group calling itself the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance is also trying to establish a foothold on the state’s political scene.
Judy Meredith, a veteran liberal lobbyist, says the anti-tax crowd is not that organized or formidable any more. “The Tea Party people will fade away as the tax limitation people have faded away nationally and in this state,” she says. “Barbara is still available for a great quote and she’s got her mailing list and her organization, but there is only one of her.”
Some wonder whether the past successes of the anti-tax movement in Massachusetts have seeped into the political culture, making angry marches on Beacon Hill superfluous today.
Jim Braude, a liberal radio and TV host and a former opponent of Anderson’s during the tax battles of the 1990s, says the deep-rooted fear of raising taxes among lawmakers today is the result of the work of Anderson and her allies. “Taxphobia has infected the Legislature to a far greater degree today than it did when she and I were involved in the tax wars. There was much greater willingness in the ‘80s and early ‘90s to do what they call ‘revenue enhancement,’ otherwise known as tax-raising,” he says. “I wouldn’t say there’s no need for the Barbara Andersons of the world, but I would say the need is less than it once was.”
Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, says there’s been an attitudinal shift on taxes across the country. “I think there is a much broader anti-tax sentiment in the country than there was 30 years ago. I think it’s more the national change,” he says.
Anderson and her team at Citizens for Limited Taxation aren’t sure what they will do if a major tax package passes. They are considering a ballot question repealing any tax hike, or they could back anti-tax candidates in the 2014 election.“I have this vision for 2014,” Anderson says. “We’re going to come in with our candidates and it’s going to be like 2010 and 1990. We’re going to wipe them out.”
Garrett Quinn is a freelance writer living in Cambridge.