Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some of the Family

I started a blog to talk about issues, but also to post pictures. It has been a long time since I have posted pics, so I decided to post a few of my animals. Banker is the Dalmation. He is two and is very active. He is my second Dalmation and they are intelligent, loyal, inquisitive, and very social. Here is Banker being precocious.
I also have two cats and this is Sasha. Can you tell that the scratching post is filled with catnip? One more time, This is my cat on drugs!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Best Places to Live in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe has a story in Sunday’s paper that gives us the best places to live in Massachusetts in quite a few categories. Of course, those of us from Western Massachusetts know that this means the best places in the eastern third of the state. Sure enough, not one Central or Western mass city or town is mentioned.

Of course we are used to this in the Berkshires. We are like a foreign country to the Globe. Unfortunately this has lead to a like mindset in the Greater Boston area. There are many examples of this. A story on WBZ-TV a few years ago detailed the plan to try to open a second large airport in Massachusetts in “Western Mass”. I was intrigued and turned on the story only to find that they were talking about Worcester!

A second example was the discussion of a broadband bill on Blue Mass Group. People were insulted that we wanted to spend state money on bringing high speed services to Western Massachusetts. Some people suggested that we shouldn’t spend money out here when more money was needed d for mass transportation in the Boston area. Never mind that 20% of all of our sales tax in western Mass goes to paying the MBTA now, they wanted more.

The third example would be the suggested 19 cent increase in gas tax. It would appear that a fair tax is one that someone else pays.

It is unfortunate that people have so little regard for Western Massachusetts. It contains a great deal of beauty; both natural and cultural. We have the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mt Greylock. We have the state’s leg of the Appalachian Trail. In our area, you can see bike paths, trails, lakes, and some of the best fly fishing on the East Coast. Want to raft? There are a number of places and services that can be utilized. If you would like to see 500 million year old bedrock marble quarries, you can visit the Natural Bridge State Park. Or maybe you would like to just relax and camp in a scenic park with a beautiful lake. Clarksburg State Park has been named as one of the top 100 small campgrounds in the US several times over the past few years. And on the Taconic Trail, you can actually stand in three states at one time while partaking of some spectacular scenic vistas. You can bike up Taconic, but if you prefer flat land, we have miles of bike paths.

Maybe history is more your thing. The Berkshires are filled with history and ties to some of the great movements, people, and thought that molded our American culture. It seems as if everyone stopped in the Berkshires at some point. You can see the site that used to be the North Adams Iron Works, where the steel plates were made for the first ironclad union vessel in the Civil War. You can visit the Susan B. Anthony House. Or how about the home of W.E.B. Dubois? Hancock Shaker Village combines history with out door activities, with culture, great furniture and a sense of immersion into a culture and way of life. There are many different sites that contribute to the history of our great nation.

Here in Berkshire County we have more cultural organizations, facilities, and activities per square foot than anywhere else in the US. We have museums such as the Berkshire Museum that has an innovation hall detailing Massachusetts contributions to American life. We have great art museums regardless of your tastes. For example, we have the quintessential American artist, Normand Rockwell at the Rockwell Museum in his home town. We have the eclectic teaching museum, the Williams College Museum of Art. And that is bracketed by the Clark Art Museum with impressionists and old masters; and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoca), one of the largest museums in the country.

We have more acting troops in Berkshire County than almost anywhere else. They are lead by two of the oldest theaters in the US, the Berkshire Theater in Stockbridge and the Williamstown Theater. Each year, some of the top actors from Broadway, Hollywood, and around the country come to the Berkshires to ply their trade and enthrall visitors.

I love music and what better place to be than in the Berkshires in the summer. Tanglewood brings the Boston Symphony to the Berkshires.

Artisans, artists and Hancock furniture awaits the visitors who stay at out summer cottages, hotels, and bed and breakfasts in the summer. Skiing, both cross country and downhill await our winter travelers and of course, even the Globe must know about the spectacular foliage in the autumn.

As I just sat down and wrote this, I am sure that I have left out a ton of activities. There are malls and outlets stores for shoppers, antique stores, baseball in two locales, and outlet stores. There is a little something for every taste and you can make a week out of activities and site, or you can move here (median house price at last look was $203,000), breathe the fresh air and shop for local foods at farmer’s markets from local farms just down the road.

If you come out to visit, plan to spend a little time and please spend a little money. It’s good for the economy. And let’s not tell the Globe. We don’t need them angry about all the fun they are missing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get a Receipt with that Doughnut!

The late comedian, Mitch Hedberg had a skit about getting a receipt for a doughnut. He would ask why he received a receipt for a doughnut and insisted that paper and ink should not come into this transaction. He said, “Why would you ever need the receipt as proof of purchase?” He would end by saying, “I have proof, no wait, its home in the file, under “D” for delicious.” We now know why he would need a receipt. He would need it if he lived in Massachusetts, where Governor Patrick has filed a “sugar” tax and where DOR is going after every penny in our couch cushions.

Governor Patrick has filed a “sin tax” to charge people sales tax on candy bars, soda, and other forms of sugar foods. So you may need a receipt if you are eating a candy bar walking down the street and an agent of the Department of Revenue (DOR) approaches demanding proof that you have, indeed, paid your tax.

Outrageous? Yes. However, in a recent conversation with a constituent who owns a business in my district, I was told a story that makes this seem not so farfetched. This struggling business man told me he had just gone through a DOR audit at his hotel. I have known this individual for 30 years and know him to be meticulous in his book keeping. I told him so and opined that he couldn’t have had any problems. He pointed to his fireplace and said he was hit on the fireplace and had to pay for that. Let me explain that his fireplace is in his outer dining room just off of the bar and is lit in the winter time for a little warmth, but more for ambiance than heat. The auditor told him that fireplaces are utilities just like gas and electricity and he needed to pay a sales tax on his cord wood! If we are hitting businesses up for their fireplace wood, we should just stop people and demand their pocket change as they walk down the street.

Is this an isolated incident? Sadly, no. Over the past few years, I have been called by store owners who sell herbs in their supermarket and the DOR is now differentiating as to how they are sold. As food, it is tax exempt, but if they believe they are being sold as vitamins, they reach back to tax the store owner. Got a coffee bar as well as sell food for take -out? Count your cookies! Cookies are tax exempt if taken out as food, but taxable on premises as a meal. Somehow DOR determines what you are selling and how.

And it is not just small business owners. The Department has determined that they are going to restructure the taxation of telecommunication services reaching into other states to look for taxes. While this may or may not be good policy, it doesn’t matter. The Department is supposed to enforce the law, not create it.

Large companies aside, we have to examine who we are taxing and why. In the Governor’s supplemental budget filing, he counts on over $100 million in tax case settlements with big companies and tax disputes. So let’s settle with the big guys, but we’d better count the candy in the little guy’s pockets.

The latest proposals for taxation hit the poorest taxpayers. Proposals to tax candy or sugar, gas, alcohol, telecommunications (phones and cable TV), as well as the recent increase in tobacco all fall disproportionately on the low income tax payers. How much can they afford to pay considering that 653,000 Americans filed for unemployment payments for the first time last week? 12 million Americans are unemployed and here in Massachusetts our unemployment rate is at 8.4% and rising.

Can we afford this? Ah what the heck, it only comes out to a large vat of coffee a week! So, be prepared to pay more for the simple things in life, and don’t forget, keep your doughnut receipt handy.