Referendums

I've been touring New England, where nearly two and a half centuries ago the people rose up against taxes levied by the British Parliament.

To the cry of "no taxation without representation", the dispute turned into war, the Declaration of Independence, and the birth of the United States.

Today, Massachusetts is home to a new uprising.  After 125,000 people signed a petition calling for the abolition of the State's income tax, a referendum will be held on the proposal in November.

A similar ballot question nearly six years ago shocked the political establishment when it nearly passed, winning 45 per cent of the popular vote.

Under the proposal, the State's 5.3 per cent income tax would be eliminated by 2010.  But the cost would be $12.7 billion - nearly half of the State's budget.

Politicians of all parties are opposing the plan, saying it would mean cuts in essential services.  But its proponent, a campaign group called the Committee for Smaller Government, says that taxpayers would save $3,600 a year, and that it would force the State government to cut waste and save money.

What I like is that the people have the power to decide on these issues.  The Conservative Party is proposing something similar.  Residents could veto excessive council tax rises, and local people could call referendums on issues of concern.

Here in the US, the political themes are strikingly similar to those in the UK.  In Massachusetts, the campaigners are saying that hard pressed families, facing rising bills, need more help and lower taxes.  So are both Presidential candidates.

The new Vice Presidential candidate for the Republicans, Governor Sara Palin, was "just your average 'hockey mom' in Alaska."  Then she joined her Parent Teacher Association, before becoming mayor of her town with an agenda "to stop wasteful spending and cut property taxes and put the people first."

On both sides of the Atlantic, that's a message which people want to hear in today's tough times.

Michelle Taylor