Did your progressive friend pay MA’s higher tax rate?

It is April 19, this year’s tax day for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s a good time to talk about an important political issue in our tax code.

When you fill out your state taxes in Massachusetts, you are allowed to pay a higher 5.85% overall tax rate, if you really want to. Really! It’s not a joke. Look a little more than halfway down this page from our Department of Revenue. It is on line 22 if you are using the paper form. If you use something like TurboTax, you get this great, in your-face prompt:

It was passed in 2002 during a tax decrease to let people pay a higher rate if they wanted to. This is actually different than people making a gift to the Commonwealth, which anyone is allowed to do at any time.

It is meant for people to pay more who could afford it, and wanted the money to be put to good use in state government.

But how many people actually do this? Data is hard to come by, but in 2013, it was 1,083 people. That’s it.

This is relevant because there are so many voices in state politics demanding higher taxes. They either come out and say it directly, or they talk about spending needs and use words like “leadership” to fund them, and don’t mention the tax increases that would pay for them.

In fact, it seems like every month there is another op-ed or column in The Globe from the left where people are saying we have a “revenue problem” and our leaders must call for higher taxes. Also, this year, we have many liberal activists working to amend our state constitution to allow more than one tax rate, so they can create a higher rate for the wealthy. There is a proposal in front of our legislature right now.

So here is my question to those activists and columnists in The Globe:

Did you pay the optional 5.85% rate on your taxes this year? YES or NO?

Elizabeth Warren got into trouble over this in her 2012 race against Scott Brown. She favored a higher tax rate on wealthy people like her, but when pressed, and after many evasions, admitted she didn’t do it. Her defense is worth quoting:

Warren has said that questions about her personal practices are not relevant to the public policy debate. The debate, her campaign has said is “not about funding government through voluntary contributions…but about our values.”

Nonsense. It isn’t a voluntary contribution, but a higher rate created specifically for people like you! It’s hypocrisy, and I bet there is a lot of it to go around among those who call themselves progressives. Unless there really are only 1,084 progressives in our state (1,083 + Warren), but I find that hard (and thrilling!) to believe.

What goes through the progressive mind when they see that prompt in Turbo Tax and click “No.” ? Do they feel a moment of guilt? Do they say, “No, only rich people should pay!” Do they just sing “la-la-la” until they close their eyes and click, then breathe deeply as they move on?

Either you think Massachusetts needs more tax dollars, or you don’t.

I don’t. I didn’t click “Yes.” I happen to know that our state budget has roughly doubled in the past 20 years, and has seen huge increases in the past several.

Progressive activists will quickly say that most of this has been due to health care spending, which is true, but those are still real dollars that we have to spend. (Of course, they say single-payer is the answer, which was somehow so much of a money-saver that Vermont — which wanted to do that very much — couldn’t figure out how they could afford it, and abandoned it.)

I think there is a lot of misspent money in the budget — especially in health care. Fortunately, we have elected a Republican governor who could not be more qualified to reduce our out-of-control health care spending. He has already taken first steps, and his most recent action on Medicaid is going to start making a difference soon.

Yes, I know that progressives will just say that the rich should do this, as that is their current political calculation. But there are many wealthy people in this state. Some of them want the amendment to pass. What did they do today?

Regardless of whether or not you are a “millionaire” — if you think the state government both needs the money and will spend it well, how can you really click “No” when the state legislature in 2002 was counting on people like you to click “Yes”? What will that small amount of money do for you that it wouldn’t do for education, transportation, or social welfare spending?

I mean, you do trust the government to spend the money wisely… isn’t that part of being a progressive?

Ed Lyons is a Republican activist who lives in Boston. He is on Twitter as @mysteriousrook and does a political podcast with @jeffsemonma called, “The Lincoln Review.”