Wednesday, November 06, 2002

A Mass. tax backlash. Before last night, the scenario for solving the state's fiscal crisis if Mitt Romney were elected governor was simple. The legislature would pass a tax increase. Romney would veto it. The legislature would override Romney's veto. And everyone would get back to business as usual. Romney would fulminate, and try to use the "Democrat tax hike" to boost Republican numbers in the legislature in 2004. But with deficits looming as far as the eye can see, he wouldn't be all that upset to have the extra money.

Well, you can now rule that scenario out. Not only was Romney's victory by a wider margin than anyone had expected, thus giving a boost to his anti-tax message; but Question One, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Carla Howell's radical proposal to eliminate the state income tax, lost by a margin of only 55 percent to 45 percent. Given such circumstances, the Democratic-controlled legislature can no longer be expected to go out on a political limb and raise taxes. As WLVI-TV (Channel 56) Jon Keller observed last night, not a single poll had predicted Question One would do that well, which demonstrates pretty decisively that there's a lot more anger and frustration among voters than any of the prognosticators had realized.

In fact, the Globe/WBZ-TV (Channel 4) poll of November 1 showed Question One losing by 59 percent to 34 percent; on September 29, the margin was 58 percent to 31 percent. What that means is that virtually everyone who made up her or his mind at the last minute voted for a massive tax cut that would leave the state on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, late deciders are also the least informed and most disengaged part of the electorate. So when Romney said he could cut taxes without harming services by going after the bureaucracy, these voters actually believed him. At some point Romney can be expected to pay a price for his disingenuousness, but not this week. His victory was so broad that he won an absolute majority -- nearly 50.6 percent -- even if the votes of all five candidates are tallied up. And if you assume that Shannon O'Brien would have received all of the votes that went to the Green Party's Jill Stein, she still only would have gotten 48.4 percent.

Mitt's got a mandate. We'll see how well he delivers.

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