Taxes

Remembering The Woman Who Helped Keep Massachusetts' Taxes Down

Barbara Anderson worked hard to improve the state's economic climate.

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Barbara Anderson
Source: Citizens for Limited Taxation

Uninspired by the presidential race? This past weekend brought an emphatic reminder that some of the most consequential lives are led by those who are never elected to political office.

The reminder came in the form of the obituaries for Barbara Anderson, who for 35 years was executive director of a Massachusetts grassroots group called Citizens for Limited Taxation.

The write-up in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune newspaper, which carried a regular column by Anderson, included a quote from a friend and fellow tax reformer, Ted Tripp, who called her "probably, in the history of Massachusetts, the most important woman ever in terms of her effect on the citizens of the state."

Most important woman in the history of Massachusetts is a high bar. Competitors for the title might include Abigail Adams, a crucial partner and adviser to her husband, John, in an earlier tax rebellion; Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science; Rose Kennedy, who was the mother of a tax-cutting president and two other nationally significant politicians; and Margaret Marshall, the state judge whose decision in a gay marriage case set a national precedent.

But Anderson has a reasonable claim to the honor, in a story with resonance far beyond the borders of the Bay State. By the account of the Boston Globe, Anderson's tax-cutting ballot initiatives brought Massachusetts from the sixth-heaviest taxed state to the 36th. The state once known pejoratively as Taxachusetts has become a relative regional tax haven, to the point where GE, partly for tax reasons, is moving its corporate headquarters to Boston from Fairfield, Conn. Massachusetts is no Florida or Texas or even New Hampshire, tax-wise, but it is significantly better than it once was.

For that, there is plenty of credit to go around. But at least as much of it rightfully belongs to Anderson as to more nationally famous personalities, such as the state's former governors William Weld and Mitt Romney.

With Proposition 2½, in 1980, Anderson got Massachusetts voters to cap both the absolute level and the growth of property taxes. The proposition, which followed the similar California Proposition 13 ballot initiative campaign led by Howard Jarvis, also reduced the excise tax on cars. Subsequent petition drives won the repeal of a 7.5 percent income tax "surtax" imposed by Governor Michael Dukakis, and defeated efforts to replace Massachusetts' flat income tax with a graduated tax.

How did Anderson achieve her remarkable success?

Particularly refreshing in the context of the current presidential campaign is that she did it with civility. A leftist activist and radio host, Jim Braude, told the Eagle-Tribune that the two traveled the state together debating tax policy. "People find this hard to believe but we drove to every debate together," he told the paper.

She was nonpartisan. The Eagle-Tribune reports that while she "generally espoused libertarian to conservative political views," she "was not a member of any political party." That's an increasingly popular stance, and, again, in the context of the current presidential race, some might find it understandable.

She was a bottom-up person, not a top-down person. "Everything starts at the grass roots level," she told The New York Times for a 1985 article. "None of the important issues start at the government level."

She was not an "expert." Anderson's success disproves the idea that you need a Nobel prize or a Ph.D. in economics from some fancy university to influence the tax policy debate. Governor Weld was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard as a junior. Governor Romney has both a J.D. and an M.B.A. from Harvard. Anderson dropped out of Penn State. Before joining Citizens for Limited Taxation part-time, she had been, by the Globe's account, working as a swim teacher and lifeguard at a YMCA.

Finally, as skeptical of big government as Anderson was, she was never cynical about the people that really matter most in a democracy—the voters and the citizen-activists. Rather than shrugging and complaining about high taxes or mediocre politicians or grinning and bearing it, she actually tried to do something to improve things, getting people to join her organization, sign petitions for ballot questions, and turn out to vote.

As an example of what can be accomplished by a determined individual, it's an inspiring tale. Abigail Adams would be proud. Massachusetts taxpayers can be grateful.

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  1. Particularly refreshing in the context of the current presidential campaign is that she did it with civility.

    Booooooooooring. I’ll let the state tax me into oblivion as long as I get a crassly entertaining debate.

    1. Have i got a presidential election for you!

  2. She is probably the sole reason why Massachusetts ISN’T the same level of economic basket case as California and Illinois

    1. the same level of economic basket case as California and Illinois

      Mass taxes are higher than Illinois … but by hair.

  3. Nice piece. I’m sure her heirs will enjoy reading it as they sit in the lawyers office and get ready to divide up her estate (less the portion the government steals through double-taxation).

    1. Wha? Her heirs didn’t earn that money, why shouldn’t the government get a piece for allowing it to be passed on?

      /progderp

    2. There won’t be much estate to divide, not enough to interest the taxman. She was a member of the middle class she spoke up for.

  4. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science

    Batshit crazy. How many kids have died of trivial childhood diseases because their idiot parents joined her nut-cult?

    -jcr

    1. But their children died due to religious beliefs. You have to respect them for their conviction.

      /s

    2. Think of it as evolution in action.

  5. Barbara Anderson was great! I remember fondly that she was attacked by “The Boston Globe” and one of the few letters they published in defense of her was mine. I later on called up the late Jerry Williams to ask Barbara Anderson if she read my letter in “The Boston Globe,” she said her staff showed it to her and it was very supportive. The talkshow host hosting Barbara Anderson, the late Jerry Williams, asked if I was asleep. Friends who heard this said I was trying to get a date with Barbara.

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here.”

    1. Talk-show host Jerry Williams was purely populist, as likely to take a left-wing position as a right-wing one. But at a key time (the late Dukakis years), he gave opportunities to Barbara Anderson and Howie Carr, a less civil right-winger.

  6. RE: Remembering The Woman Who Helped Keep Massachusetts’ Taxes Down
    Barbara Anderson worked hard to improve the state’s economic climate.

    A person trying to save the public taxes in Massachusetts?
    I’m surprised she wasn’t burned as a witch.

    1. Speaking of witchhunts, Barbara Anderson spoke up loudly and clearly for the Amirault family, railroaded in the Fells Acres day care hysteria. As her dying wish, she expressed the hope that MA Gov Charlie Baker honor a promise he had made to her to bring justice for the innocent Gerald Amirault, starting by removing his ankle bracelet.

    2. Speaking of witchhunts, Barbara Anderson spoke up loudly and clearly for the Amirault family, railroaded in the Fells Acres day care hysteria. As her dying wish, she expressed the hope that MA Gov Charlie Baker honor a promise he had made to her to bring justice for the innocent Gerald Amirault, starting by removing his ankle bracelet.

      1. I didn’t even know she spoke against the Amirault witch hunt. Barbara Anderson was so great. Thanks to the late, great, Libertarian talkshow host, David Brudnoy. I was able to talk to Tookie Amirault. I joked with poor Tookie that if he didn’t change that kid’s soiled clothes, he wouldn’t be in jail. Tookie laughed and said that was true. Tookie Amirault could still keep a sense of humor, despite his unfair circumstance.

        “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here.”

  7. Rather than shrugging and complaining about high taxes or mediocre politicians or grinning and bearing it, she actually tried to do something to improve things, getting people to join her organization, sign petitions for ballot questions, and turn out to vote.

    You all should be ashamed!!! *points finger shaking with fury

  8. Tax growth has been limited, and with it the increase in parasitical and unproductive hands in DC. Abortion became safe and legal and the kidnapping of youth for cannon fodder became a thing of the past. Before 1971 the Klan ran the south, prohibitionists everywhere shot and jailed kids for hemp and grownups for same-sex enjoyment. ALL of those fascist laws are going down the toilet thanks to the volunteer candidates who ran on the Libertarian platform. Their spoiler votes made it possible for activists like Barbara Anderson to MAKE IT HAPPEN while cowards and herd-followers threw away their votes on the grinning liars fielded by the Looter Kleptocracy. I remember her fondly.

  9. Show of hands: How many readers believe Massachusetts is a low-tax state?

  10. Mass generally shows up middle-of-the-pack on tax issues. I just bought a cabin on a lake in NH and wanted to use that as my permanent address for tax purposes, but it was correctly pointed out that with my kids in public school in MA, I’d be caught in a second. Guess that’s what my $9k/yr property tax and $12k per year state income tax pays for. Still cheaper than private school, I suppose.

    1. Mass is in the top 10, at both Forbes and the Tax Foundation.
      Forbes used total tax collections as a percent of total state income.
      Tax Foundation used taxes applicable to an average resident earning $50,000

      http://www.forbes.com/pictures…..roduction/

      http://bitly.com/1SKs2HZ

      Illinois has been mentioned here. Both sources rate Mass as more costly than Illinois.

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  14. I lived in Mass. for two years. The worst part was the old boy network in old Boston which helped elect total hacks like Romney. The next worst part was the patrician snobbery on Marblehead and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, where the locals didn’t want their views sullied by windmills that were designed to generate electricity for the unwashed.

    Its much better out here in Cali.

    1. At least you picked a state that was already ruined. did you get another mortgage?

      1. I’d say the thing I liked most about Barbara’s writing while I lived in Massachusetts and, of which, I was vaguely familiar during the campaign to elect a governor who wasn’t a raging dick in 2006 was her humility and her unwillingness to name drop.

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