Lead us not into temptation

I’d like to write a bit this week about one of the great elements of the human condition. One finds references to it in all religions, in great literature -- from comedy to tragedy -- and in abundance in everyday life. I am speaking, of course, of temptation.

For me, temptation is a daily condition. It usually manifests itself as chocolate, or doughnuts, or -- even more lethal -- chocolate doughnuts. Fried foods will make an occasional appearance too, as will pizza, over-sleeping, and the random piece of attractive footwear. On my good days I am a rock, a fortress of resistance and inner strength. On my bad days, well, let’s just say you’ll know my bad days because you’ll catch me in the McDonald’s drive-through with doughnut crumbs still on my face and a T.J. Maxx bag in the passenger’s seat.

On Nov. 4, voters in the Commonwealth will face a tremendous temptation. It is called Question 1, and it will appear at the top of the ballot question list. The opening sentence of Question 1 reads, “This proposed law would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65 percent for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010.” In other words, it would eliminate the state income tax.

I can’t tell someone else how to vote. However, just as I rely on knowledge of my checking account balance when confronted with a pair of brown leather boots or the Nutrition Information table when confronted with a Snickers bar, I do believe it is important to understand the impact of that proposal on our neighbors and communities.

Passage of Question 1 would eliminate 40 percent of the Commonwealth’s budget. That’s $12.5 out of $30 billion in state spending. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Commonwealth would then have only $5 billion available for discretionary budget spending. Keep in mind that things like prisons, courts, social services, parks, public universities and transportation fall into that “discretionary” category. According to the calculations of the question’s supporters, the average taxpayer would save $3,700 in taxes. Local property taxes would go up, however, as aid to cities and towns would decrease by as much as 71 percent. Further, the 65 percent of taxpayers who make $50,000 a year or less would actually save only $850.

The most important statistic to keep in mind, however, is who will be hit hardest. It is the people we serve here at Catholic Charities. We touch the lives of 200,000 vulnerable people a year. Not only would our ability to do that be decimated (52 percent of our annual budget comes from government social service contracts), but those same people would have nowhere else to turn for help. Social services would be mostly gone. The safety net? Gone. Private giving has gone up only .3 percent in the past few years, and every single one of us knows that there will be less money available to give this year than last. Who will make up the difference? There’s no one standing there to catch the poor if they go flying off that cliff.

I succumb to my temptations when the day has been long, the hours have been hard, and the will is weak. Well, the year has been long for everyone. The days have been hard. And after (or before) a 10-hour shift, that check box next to Question 1 is going to look better to the citizen standing in the voting booth than a whole box of Dunkin Donuts chocolate cream-filleds look to me on a Sunday morning.

I pray that the will is strong.

Tiziana Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston