“A Progressive is one who…would be inclined to regard the repeal of any tax as outrageous.” – H.L. Mencken

It’s been nearly a century since Mencken wrote that. And here in Massachusetts, it seems little has changed.

How else to explain the Democratic supermajority’s reluctance to break off even a modest chunk of the record-shattering state surplus, engorged by federal stimulus and whopping state revenues, to give a tax break to an inflation-besieged public that is begging for one?

Gov. Charlie Baker’s package of proposed tax cuts looms over the legislative session like a cloud of locusts at a picnic. Top Democrats love the low-hanging fruit of the breaks for seniors and renters, and even sound like they’re ready to fix our onerous estate tax; maybe they’ll actually get around to passing something. But a capital gains tax cut? No way.

And there’s the temporary gas tax moratorium proposal that just won’t die no matter how often they try to kill it. (Somebody order up some wolfsbane! Whole Foods must have it!)

It’s hard to keep track of the ever-shifting reasons why tax relief is so distasteful to legislators who’ve never seen the state so flush with cash. Cuts in capital gains are easy to wave off as a gift to “the rich,” even though many middle-class property owners hoping to cash in on sky-high real estate values and seniors looking to cash out their retirement accounts might not see it that way.

But the state gas tax suspension is proving to be a trickier target. Back in March, it was alleged to be a dagger to the heart of our precious bond ratings. Whoops, the bond rating agencies said it’s no problem. Then it was reviled as a Republican gimmick, until blue states like Connecticut and New York went for it.

Now the White House is reportedly poised to push for a moratorium on the federal tax, a concession to the idea that, yes, it’s chump change in the overall inflation picture, but for chrissake, can’t you throw poor Joe and Jane Sixpack a single frickin’ bone?

The latest spin from the nay-sayers is that the dastardly oil companies will just wipe out the break by jacking up prices even more. Maybe so. But some gas station owners might feel competitive pressure to pass the savings on to their customers anyway.

And what if they don’t? At least legislators will be able to say hey, we tried, and return to their comfort zone of blaming heartless mega-capitalists.

Failing that, incumbents facing legitimate challengers will have to explain to pissed-off voters why they couldn’t bring themselves to share the wealth, even as they’re endorsing the “Fair Share” ballot question that once again plays the class card in an effort to shake the money tree.

And if their response is that tax-cut gimmicks are boob-bait for idiots, how do they justify their support for the ultimate gimmick, the August sales tax “holiday,” a shell game of planned purchases delayed and back-to-school sales dressed up as a gift from Beacon Hill?

Read the polling: the majority wants a tax break. The powers that be ought to bone up on another bit of Mencken wisdom: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Join me every Tuesday for more analysis of local policy and politics right here on MASSterList.

Subscribe to MASSterList

Start your morning with MASSterList’s chronicle of news and informed analysis about politics, policy, media, and influence in Massachusetts. Plus, get an inside look at Beacon Hill’s hottest new job postings.

Jon Keller has been reporting and commenting on local politics since 1978. A graduate of Brandeis University, he worked in radio as a producer and talk-show host before moving into print journalism at The Tab newspapers and the Boston Phoenix. Freelance credits include the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, the New Republic and the Washington Post. Since 1991 his "Keller At Large" commentaries and interviews have been a fixture on Boston TV, first on WLVI-TV and, since 2005, on WBZ-TV. He is a 12-time Emmy Award winner for political reporting and commentary. He began his Massterlist column in March 2020.