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From Barbara Anderson, a little history

Posted by Your Town  May 7, 2008 09:30 AM

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We asked Barbara Anderson, executive director, Citizens for Limited Taxation, to write a short column in this season of overrides. Take it away Barbara . . .

May 5, 2008

A quick retrospective for those who weren’t Massachusetts taxpayers before the Great Tax Revolt in 1980:

There was no control on property taxes, so they ranged from highest to third highest in the world, year to year. The local public employee unions, other spending interests, and people who could easily afford higher taxes packed town meetings or intimidated city councils.

Incredibly, the educational establishment had a thing called "school committee fiscal autonomy." This meant that the school committee had to be given whatever budget it demanded, unless the town went to court, where it usually lost. When taxpayers complained at a school committee meeting, they were ignored.

So they rebelled by passing Proposition 2 ½, which limited property taxes AND repealed "school committee fiscal autonomy." Local managers, able to finally get some control over school budgets, looked there first for savings. So when you hear that "education was devastated by Prop 2 ½," it was merely treated, for the first time, like other town departments. Even today, per pupil expenditures are among the highest in the nation.

You will also hear that "overrides are a legitimate part of Proposition 2 ½." Well, yes, in that we created an override provision as a safety net to cover emergencies and other unanticipated expenses, like a court judgment. Voters were so angry in 1980 that it never occurred to us that they would vote to raise their taxes to pay for operating expenses, including employee pay raises and benefits that exceed their own.

Property taxes and the total per capita tax burden are still far above the national average in Massachusetts. But at least taxpayers have some control, and are generally treated more politely by school committees that might want their override vote. It’s only when an override fails that they hear they selfishly don’t care about either education or "the children;" and for override advocates, more is never enough.

This year, forced to recognize that some people can’t afford to pay more, override proponents are stating their sympathy before arguing for the override anyhow. Clearly they don’t care that a tax increase is a pay cut for people on fixed incomes, or who are unemployed; sometimes they suggest that such people might want to live somewhere else that is more affordable for them. At a Marblehead Town Meeting several years ago, a woman responded to a senior citizen’s concern that "if you can’t afford this, perhaps you aren’t managing your portfolio properly." Perhaps.

After hearing about "the suffering children in Wellesley" shortly after Prop 2 ½ passed, I tuned out on the tales of woe. But now it’s clear that serious problems do lie ahead for Massachusetts cities and towns if they don’t get control over public employee benefits and special education costs. State laws must be changed, unions must be confronted, reforms must be made. Voters who allow overrides stand in the way of necessary change – and of Governor Patrick’s campaign promise for "property tax relief."

Readers can learn more at our website, www.cltg.org.

-- Barbara Anderson
Executive Director
Citizens for Limited Taxation

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52 comments so far...
  1. First off, I love the "third highest in the world" hyperbole. Since they don't have taxes on Jupiter, when not just go for third highest in the solar system? Hell, while you're at it, why not third highest in the known universe?

    A tax incrase isn't a pay cut, Barbara. It's a cost of living increase. When I buy lunch, I'm not taking a pay cut. I'm getting something for my money. For your money, you're getting community services.

    Posted by Ed May 7, 08 04:38 PM
  1. None of us like higher taxes but we are paying them above and beyond prop. 2 1/2 thanks to fees and other revenue generating items that fall outside of property taxes.

    I agree that prop. 2 1/2 keeps town accountable but is in need of a fix. I think tieing the allowable increase to inflation would be a good start.

    Posted by Tom in Lexington May 7, 08 04:40 PM
  1. Prop 2 1/2 does need to be changed - it should be Prop 2 or Prop 1 1/2 instead. Municipal Unions are killing budgets and need to be rained in. What about shared sacrafice - I am continually asked to give more, but can the municial employees pay a measly 10% of their healthcare or maybe the Police vacation and sick time can be more in line with the DPS(Dreaded Private Sector) - 2 weeks and 5 sick days. Oh and when you call in sick, no details - you know that fleecing of citizens by having a coffee sipping cop look at a hole in the ground. My town said no narrowly to the annual request for more money "for the children". No doubt my town will survive, despite claims of the decimation of our existence without additional money.

    Posted by Pete in North Reading May 7, 08 06:09 PM
  1. If regular folks (or should I say the lucky ones?) can live on 2.5% pay raises the government can too.

    Posted by Tony May 7, 08 06:33 PM
  1. Way to go Barbara. Tell it like it is. I have 3 kids in elementary school, and enough is enough. When times are tough, you cut, it's that simple.

    Posted by ME May 7, 08 06:53 PM
  1. Actually Pete as one with some firsthand knowledge of your school system, I can confidently say that your town is going to be in trouble. When the decimation (pretty accurate term there really) of the schools is done you'll be one happy camper though. Aren't taxes based on property value? Yeah, that'll be a lot lower when test scores fall through the floor and important high school programs are cut. As a public school teacher (not in NR) I understand the effect that these cuts have on our programs. It IS catastrophic. Sad that in an America that used to understand the value of shared sacrifice for the greater good, the idea of paying to educate our students has become a "burden" on those who already got what they needed out of the system.

    Posted by Paul May 7, 08 07:27 PM
  1. With all due respect to Ed who wrote the first posting, you can choose whether or not to buy lunch out, and you can choose the restaurant. You have no choice in which taxes you pay and what amount you pay. Restaurants can't legally confiscate your money, governments can. And while I certainly believe in paying for necessary government services through tax revenue, it's pretty safe to say that many of these so-called "services" are not what our federal or state constitutions had in mind when they were written. Government, whether local, state, or federal must be held accountable. We ignore government excess at our own peril.

    Posted by John May 7, 08 08:58 PM
  1. As a Prop 2 1/2 survivor...a kid who had to suffer through the long battles my town had over Barbara's little proposition...who had to see everything get cut time and time again, to see the school building literally fall apart...well I have to thank Barbara for making my education about Prop 2 1/2 a practical one. (And no, it isn't the union's fault. People deserve to see their salary go up by the cost of living.)
    --Yeah, property taxes stink. Taxes stink. But they're the price we pay to live in a civilized society. Property tax is a regressive tax. We ought to do something about it all together. Maybe put in a $500,000/house exemption, along with an extra 5% income tax on incomes above $150,000/year ($300,000 if married). Then the schools will have all the money they need.

    Posted by Dave May 7, 08 09:25 PM
  1. Government Spending needs as many limits as possible. Giving voters a say each year is very fair. Governments never limit spending unless spending restraints are forced on them.

    Posted by Homer May 7, 08 09:28 PM
  1. Pete, Ironically, one of the unintended consequences of prop 2 1/2 is that your taxes will never go down. Not that they ever would have anyway. If your property value drops in half, they're still allowed to collect the same amount of property tax the next year + 2 1/2 percent. They'll just double the tax rate in order to insure that we'll keep funding these ridiculous pensions and benefits packages to the unions. I just got our town annual report, and almost 10% of the town budget goes to paying pensions. That's not including the cost of the retiree's health insurance, or the sick time buybacks. We'd be in much better shape financially, if we could get rid of these perks. We could actually afford to pay teachers and police and firemen, etc, a higher wage if we didn't have to pay them for the rest of their lives.

    Posted by Tim May 7, 08 09:34 PM
  1. As mentioned a few times here, a very large part of the problem is the exorbitant healthcare and pension costs that cities and towns pay their public employees. Like everyone else in the private sector, my health insurance costs have risen dramatically these past few years, and pensions are long a thing of the past.

    Why then, are my taxes going to finance rich benefits for town workers, while the rest of the town goes to pot?

    The roads are in shambles, the schools are reduced to rationing pencils, and the library is on the verge of losing its accreditation year after year. Meanwhile, the unions would rather lay off teachers to a skeleton crew than touch their golden benefits.

    Barbara Anderson suggests that we eschew overrides and force towns to be more fiscally responsible. This seems like sound advice, except that despite years of declining services & MCAS scores AND defeated override votes, we are still hamstrung by union demands and state requirements (i.e. special education budget).

    As a result, our schools are rapidly declining, making the town much less attractive to home buyers. Our town is so desperate for cash, selectmen are willing to green-light any develoment project no matter how ill-advised. The library is barely even open anymore.

    What now?

    Posted by Zekoya May 7, 08 09:42 PM
  1. If the towns and cities pay attention to what they are doing, and keep themselves from granting excessive benefits and adding unneeded programs then they can handle the limits imposed by prop 2-1/2
    Dracut is doing quite well, thank you, while the towns around us spent themselves into levels that are just unsustainable.
    Where Tewksbury has a projected 10 million dollar deficit over the new few years, and Chelmsford is looking at a couple million, we are staying within our limits thank you very much.
    We do have a court mandate hanging over our heads to deal with.. but we're in a situation where we have alternatives.
    Professional management, and a set of taxpayers who know how to say "no" when the time is right (and not get hornswaggled by those "for the children" lines).

    Posted by Shawn May 7, 08 09:47 PM
  1. Thank you SO MUCH Barbara Anderson! As you point out so often, there is no end to what government would take from us if we let them. We need you to constantly remind the voters of this state just how bad things were...and how bad the could be. Public employees get paid VERY well for what they do and for any who don't think so please take your valuable skills into the dreaded private sector...there's plenty of people who would gladly take your place.

    Posted by Lenny Mirra May 7, 08 09:48 PM
  1. no one is talking about the real issue - which is that the state - which does not pay for your schools, fire department or police department - or any of the services that touch your life - fails to provide enough "local aid" under Ch 70/90. What does the state do with 27B when all the towns/cities schools, police and fire run on only 11B? It is NOT local aid - it is our tax dollars. Prop 2.5 keeps citizens arguing with their neighbors - the fight really needs to be with the state. There is NO need for overrides if our town govts got some of our income tax money.

    Posted by ed May 7, 08 09:50 PM
  1. I do not see the state house NOR local communities living within a budget. Its time for the parents to chip in more. In addition with rising health care costs the lucky employees should be paying more.
    The city retirements are so grand they are NOT ever published. They do not pay taxes on those retirements and many obtain jobs after their municipal retirements. The youth of today are going to be saddled with those retirements for decades.
    As a private employee I do not see anywhere near the vacation time municipal workers get and of course the sick time and personal time. ALL of these things were negotiated over decades when the taxpayer was barely told of it.
    We need a longer school day and school year like other countries.

    Posted by allen May 7, 08 09:56 PM
  1. As mentioned a few times here, a very large part of the problem is the exorbitant hehalthcare and pension costs that cities and towns pay their public employees. Like everyone else in the private sector, my health insurance costs have risen dramatically these past few years, and pensions are long a thing of the past.

    Why then, are my taxes going to finance rich benefits for town workers, while the rest of the town goes to pot? The roads are in shambles, the schools are reduced to rationing pencils, and the library is on the verge of losing its accreditation year after year. Meanwhile, the unions would rather lay off teachers to a skeleton crew than touch their golden benefits.

    Barbara Anderson suggests that we eschew overrides and force towns to be more fiscally responsible. This seems like sound advice, except that despite years of declining services and MCAS scores, we are still hamstrung by union demands and state requirements (i.e. special education budget).

    As a result, our schools are rapidly declining, making the town much less attractive to home buyers. Our town is so desperate for cash, selectmen are willing to green-light any develoment project no matter how ill-advised. The library is barely even open anymore.

    What now?

    Posted by Zekoya May 7, 08 10:09 PM
  1. Well yes Ed, taxes were among the highest in the universe, for the same reason they were highest to third highest in the nation -- because the property tax was utilized in this country more than in the rest of the world or on other planets.

    When my taxes increase, I lose more of my pay; for those of us on a fixed income, the amount we have to spend is less, while the money gives a payraise to public employees. The service may be worth it, but the fact remains and should be considered: the public employee gain is the taxpayer revenue loss.

    Posted by Barbara Anderson May 7, 08 10:20 PM
  1. Barbara: Didn't Prop 2 1/2 also address the method of accessment? I seem to recall that before 2 1/2 an accessor was a politically appointed position with no training required (ie a brother-in-law... hack). Also that properties were not routinely required to be accessed ,so accessed values were all over the place. Didn't 2 1/2 also establish the requirement that accessments had to be 80% of the fair market value. These changes had to be a very good thing to make accessments more professional and fair.

    Overall, I think Prop 2 1/2 was a the last great accomplishment done by voters using the initiative petition process... and 'accepted' by the legislature, unlike many petitions since then.

    Posted by Bob May 7, 08 10:22 PM
  1. Hey Paul, you shouldn't assume that people opposed to continually plowing money into schools selfishly figure they got what they wanted out of the system. Why say that? Could it be that some people think that the schools always want more without regard to the taxpayer, as if we are some kind of damn venture capitalist being asked to fund your great idea. We are damn well close to a recession if you haven't noticed. Have some sympathy and understanding for the plight of taxpayers. And please, don't bring up prop values ok? You don't really give a damn about that, you know that, and I know that. Read the Anderson article above. You don't think the bullying nature and entitlement of school boards pre-1980 contributes to lingering bitterness? You brought it on yourselves.

    Posted by Prof. Skiffington III May 7, 08 10:26 PM
  1. Annual revenue increases under Proposition 2 1/2 (2.5% plus new growth) are perfectly adequate to fund municipal and school budgets. The difficulty is finding School Committee members and Selectmen with the courage to control costs and insist that union contracts (salaries & benefits) be and stay affordable. Since union salaries and benefits are currently well above what is provided in the private sector, this should be an easy task.

    The notion that spending a little less per pupil will impact academic performance is not borne out by the facts. Just take the ~350 public schools in Massachusetts and make a scatter plot of their SAT scores (or MCAS scores) vs their per pupil expenditures. You will get a big round random cloud of dots showing no relationship whatsoever. I have challenged override proponents for 5 years to show a relationship and no one has done so yet. I challenge the readers of this blog to do so.

    Finally, the idea that property values are enhanced by raising taxes is another myth that those wanting to increase taxes have foisted on unsuspecting voters. Every credible economic study shows that increased property taxes decrease resale values (about $8 for every $1 increase in annual tax burden).

    The key to better schools and improved academic results is raising standards and expectations and encouraging greater parental support. This far outweighs anything increased spending can contribute. Of course this doesn't gather a lot of union support because it doesn't increase pay or benefits or reduce workload (e.g., by reducing class sizes).

    Oh, by the way, I'm a current elected School Committee member and a college math professor, so I have studied these issues up close and personal.

    Posted by Chuck May 7, 08 10:27 PM
  1. I will be happy to live within Proposition 2.5 as long as everyone agrees that they will only charge 2.5% more each year for their services and as long as employees in private business will agree to take not more than 2.5% in total compensation each year. When I offered today to pay 2.5% more than last year for gas, the station owner told me to go elsewhere. I don't get it. He doesn't understand proposition 2.5. Neither does my stone mason, my grocery store, etc.

    Posted by Tim Averill May 7, 08 10:37 PM
  1. Barbara is right. A tax increase is most surely a pay cut. State, city and town governments need to learn to cut spending, like we do. Except for police officers and fire fighters (for whom I have the greates respect and always support), most government workers are paper pushers and the paper they push is the result of laws and regulations that are made to create jobs for people who couldn't survive in the real world. The money these "non-essential" bureaucrats make and their benefit packages are obscene for what they do. We should have Prop 1 or even 0.5. I think 2 1/2 is generous. And the government schools and their teachers are among the worst of the whiners. They always threaten (like comment #6), but who consistently shows the best academic achievement? Home-schoolers (whose teachers don't get paid anything) and private school students (whose teachers get paid far less than government school teachers).

    Posted by Anna May 7, 08 10:40 PM
  1. Why wont our state finally get the real point of this fiscal crisis? Education should not be supported based on property tax. This is way too regressive and makes it impossible for senior citizens and others who are on fixed incomes to do what is right morally. It is our obligation as a civilized society to provide the best possible education for the future generations. We need to begin to completely change the funding formula and pay a much larger portion from state income tax which is a much fairer way to determine who has the ability to pay. By the way, the overttime that police officers are getting in most towns is obscene. That is definitely one area which should be addressed.

    Posted by Mark May 7, 08 10:57 PM
  1. As one school committee her in Lexington put it . "It's a shame that public education isn't free anymore." This in reference to higher fees for athletics and new fees for musical education. Are these things necessary? No. But in study after study, children who have these kinds of activities in their lives do better in every way than those who don't. When the override failed 2 years ago and we lost foreign language in the elementary schools and had to pay more out of our pockets for less education I really did feel that we were letting our children down. Is there too much money being spent somewhere that should be cut, probably. But my kids are in school now. Forcing change by decimating the education of our youth until other parts of the system are fixed is short sighted and detrimental to the future of us all.

    Posted by John Kepler May 7, 08 11:04 PM
  1. I, for one, am sick and tired of all the arrogant individuals who hold us hostage for the sake of our children. They allow the schools to send letters home with our students informing parents that if an override does not pass, sports and other programs will be canceled or buses will be stopped and parents will have to transport children to school. This is coercion and is inappropriate and unethical.

    Posted by JMF May 7, 08 11:05 PM
  1. Paul, as a public school teacher, how much "shared sacrifice" are you and your colleagues in the teachers unions willing to shoulder in your next contract negotiations with the taxpayers, whom you'll be asking to sacrifice more? You understand the effect of cuts on programs, but do you understand the effect of cuts on family budgets whenever taxes are increased for public employee pay raises and overly generous benefits? It's not only goverment officials who must answer the question "Where can we cut in our 'bare-bones' budget?" You need to recognize this as well. Teach, but teach by example.

    Posted by Chip May 7, 08 11:27 PM
  1. Barbara through CLT is one of the few firewalls remaining between confiscatory government bureaucracies with their attendant unions and the hapless taxpayer. As a public school educator for near forty years, I am all too aware of the costs related to over-regulation. Mandates are forever added - none taken away - with all the accompanying costs in time and paperwork, a dynamic that subverts both the quality and quantity of teaching and its support by engaged administrations. Taxpayers need to understand that a large part of what their bieng asked to pay for has little to do with education when it comes to local public schools. Government at all levels simply needs to become more creative and forceful about limiting ancillary costs derived form burdensome mandates. Barbara and CLT are to be commended for their tireless efforts.

    Posted by RHL May 7, 08 11:31 PM
  1. Prop 2 1/2 "survivor" Dave wrote: "Taxes stink. But they're the price we pay to live in a civilized society." Dave, are you aware that you paraphrased a famous and often misapplied quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. -- "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." He made that observation in 1904, before there was an income tax, federal or state. Would you agree to go back to those good old days?

    Posted by Chip May 7, 08 11:41 PM
  1. David Dahl, are you inviting someone to write a column from the other point of view?

    Posted by Bill McDonough May 8, 08 12:06 AM
  1. So here is the problem, since 1980 the CPI has averaged about 4% or 1.5% a year more then the 2.5% that a town can raise taxes. So while a 2.5% increase has doubled taxes in the last 28 years, towns have about 85% of the spending power. Now Barbara is probably fine with this, but if you are depending on the next generation to pay your Social Security benifits, you may want to find a way to make up the shortfall and vote for that next override. So this generation of childern can get the educations necessary to pay for the benifits you expect.

    Posted by Ted May 8, 08 12:47 AM
  1. I have no children in school. The school committee here constantly has their hands in my pocket. My QUARTERLY taxes in 2002, when I moved here were $2900. They are now $4400. Everyone here wants only the best for their little darlings and they want ME to pay for it. When a group of parents tried to pay to continue Spanish lessons for kindergarteners, the school committee refused, saying it is their philosophy that it is the responsibility of society at large to educate the children. I agree TO A POINT but I also agree with USER taxes, where those who use a service pay more. The last laugh will be had by me, for we will move and a family with kids will move in. Let the town figure out how to pay to educate them.

    Posted by MJ May 8, 08 01:30 AM
  1. Isn't it funny that all these people tellings us about all these cuts in their schools time and time again don't tell you that their school costs keep rising at an extraordinary rate. Our school committee tells us that our schools have been decimated by cuts over the eyars but each and every year, the school budget rises between four and six percent. Here are some sites for school analysis...


    http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/ppx.aspx


    http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/selectedpopulations.aspx


    One Framingham student now costs about $15,000 to educate for one year.

    Posted by Harold J. Wolfe May 8, 08 01:59 AM
  1. Whenever I hear phrases like "catastrophic cuts", "decimating the education of our youth", and "cut time and again", it always makes me wonder about those who come up with them. Are they dishonest, disingenuous, or simply naive? The fact is that government spending and education spending almost always rise. True budget cuts are rare indeed.

    I browsed through my last few North Reading Town Meeting Warrants and put a few numbers into a spreadsheet: Town spending has increased as follows the past four years: 12.0%, 5.2%, 7.9%, & 6.3%. We have continuously been told that budgets are extremely tight, yet here we have increases of double, triple, and even quadruple the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Nor are the schools hurting, as their spending increased as follows: 11.6%, 3.0%, 6.4%, & 4.9%. Where are the "catastrophic" cuts that Paul (msg 6) refers to? Of course, it's true that the children aren't getting much benefit from these increases--after all, school salaries do absorb most of them. Indeed, spending on salaries has increased by 12.9%, 5.5%, 4.1%, & 5.6% these past four years. Since the CPI was 2.5-3% during this time, perhaps Dave (msg 8) can explain how these large increases are just "cost of living" increases for the poor school teachers?

    Finally, Ed (msg 1) writes that tax increases aren't pay cuts--I'm apparently "getting community services" for my extra money. Well, in the 13 years I've lived here, my property taxes have risen 69.7% which is almost double the CPI over that period. Yet, I receive no more and no better services now than I did in 1995. Indeed, I actually receive less--I now pay an outrageous $180/yr trash "fee" for the privilege of putting out a bag of trash and a recycling bin once a month. Perhaps you can cheer me up and explain precisely what additional services I'm getting for these tax increases?

    Posted by Jamie_NR May 8, 08 03:07 AM
  1. CLT has done us all a great service. Prop 21/2 has provided a basis for towns to manage their expenses and negotiate with all service providers to the town. The real challenge is in negotiating with the biggest service provider - the teachers and their union.

    The Mass Teachers Union has established the ground rules for the state and band together to achieve their goals. They provide professional negotiators to school districts for contract negotiations while cash strapped towns send their best local non-trained volunteers. In addition, the administrations in many towns have essentially decided that they like being on the teachers side so they do not take a tough managment position in salary discussions.

    I believe teachers should be well paid, but I am tired of hearing about tenure etc. We need merit pay for rewards and the associated ability to remove poor performers.

    If you think your town has a problem -- try living in a town with a very limited commercial base to help with the tax load and lots of new families commited to giving their children everything. Our property taxes are twice the average for Massachusetts and every year is a new battle between neighbors!!

    Posted by Howard Smith May 8, 08 06:46 AM
  1. Thanks to Babs, I've seen the light. Why should municipal workers get healthcare benefits at a reasonable payroll deduction rate? Next thing you know, those spoiled firefighters, police and teachers will be expecting to earn enough money to afford a house in the town in which they work. And those d---d disabled kids! Wouldn't slavery (for the former) and euthanasia (for the latter) make more sense? Now there's an idea CLT could get behind!
    While your at it, Boston Globe, why don't you report on the school's debt exclusion override that passed at Marblehead Town Meeting Tuesday night 507-3? Babs and two of her minions were the only dissenting votes. Yes, CLT is certainly certainly recognized as a voice of reason to be heeded!

    Posted by A Marbleheader May 8, 08 06:59 AM
  1. Yes, it's override time again folks. Time to hear about the "decimation" of our schools, the "crumbling buildings", the "rationing of pencils", etc. etc. Is anyone buying this? Has anyone driven by high schools in Newburyport or Andover lately? Has anyone checked out the "crumbling" Masco? You'll hear how heartless and stingy you are if you don't automatically pony up what the "More is Never Enough" crowd says you "deserve" to pay.
    What you WON'T hear is talk of Superintendent pay & benefits, Asst. Superintendent pay & benefits, Asst. to the Asst. Superintendent pay & benefits, city and town employee pay & benefits, cost of police "overtime" and details, etc. You won't hear about municipal pension and "sick pay" abuses. You won't hear how much of health insurance costs are picked up by the taxpayer and not the employee. These things will be jealously protected. YOU, however, will be expected to tighten your belt and to make sure you do, the usual threats to "services" and "the children" will be trotted out just like last year and just like they will be next year. And the year after....
    Try this at home: spend beyond your income. Make some lavish improvements to your home. Take a nice, long vacation. And then go into your private sector boss and "demand" more money because of the "fiscal crisis" you find yourself in. How do you think that will go over? Hopefully, taxpayers in MA have finally had enough and will begin to force some fiscal discipline on our elected officials; you know, the ones whose salaries WE pay.

    Posted by Dennis May 8, 08 07:36 AM
  1. Government run amok! That is the legacy we will look back on if indeed there are not substantial changes made in the way things are done today. Can't remember exactly when it occured but there was a time that gasoline taxes were kept separate for the purpose of maintaining good safe highways and roads. At a point there was promulgated legislation that combined all revenues, regardless from where they were generated, into the General Treasury. Bad idea; which is now rearing its ugly head. Just wait, we taxpayers are going to be barraged with the gloom and doom warnings that our bridges are about to collapse if we don't spend the billions, they are talking about today, to fix the problem. I reality, the problem is and has been, the lack of culpability our government operates under regarding spending and the unconscionable disregard for priorities regarding maintenance.
    This is only one of a myriad of examples and I'll stop here. However, before I sign off, if you want to get a better understanding of just what has gone wrong these past several decades with government management of their primary responsibility read Newt Gingrich's latest book "Real Change". It's an eye opener!

    Posted by Bob Moores, Chelmsford May 8, 08 08:06 AM
  1. Prop 2 1/2 is merely a circuit breaker invoking a public ballot, and it does not need further weakening. The history of Prop 2 1/2 is worth reviewing, as the original taxpayer protections have been watered down since 1980. This is true for new growth criteria, the treatment of abatements and exclusions, and an add-on such as the CPA program. It is true Prop 2 1/2 could use a re-write -- but only to revert substantially to the original verbiage of 1980, plus a "negative" new growth factor added to the calculations. CPA funding should be rolled into it as well, and those dollars should be controlled by elected officials.
    Finally, towns are not limited to a mere 2.5% levy limit increase per year! This is just the starting point. Ask your own town hall what the levy limits were each of the past 5 to 10 years, and you'll consistently find a lot more than 2.5% increases, even without an override or debt exclusion. Then visit Barbara Anderson's CLT website for more details about how this happens.

    Posted by Tom in Duxbury May 8, 08 08:24 AM
  1. It's common knowledge in Marblehead and around the Commonwealth that town meetings are not the place to defeat overrides -- they're notoriously packed by the well-organized takers with hands out and up for more, more, ever more. The place for beleaguered taxpayers to fight back against impending poverty is at the ballot box after the insatiable takers have had their day -- or evening as is the case. Without ceaseless overrides as an escape valve for mismanagement and craven union appeasement, the only option will be fiscal responsibility. Just say NO to any and every override until taxpayers become as important as public employee unions and the takers. Call it "tough love," or "love thy neighbor."

    Posted by Another Marbleheader May 8, 08 08:35 AM
  1. If higher taxes in support of the elusive "better education" or "better student" are the answer...how does one explain that a large number of countries whose students shame our students in math, science and the important areas come from countries where far less is spent proportionately on teachers, schools, and benefits (like extra $ for teachers who take courses)...countries like Slovenia and it's neighbors for instance!
    Barbara is a voice of reason and I applaud her.
    Before long we may have a real taxpaper revolt akin to the Boston Tea Party but it wouldn't be tea that goes in the bay...our legislature might worry though!!
    J.H.

    Posted by Jordan May May 8, 08 08:57 AM
  1. Hey, Marbleheader (and the tone of your message makes the libertarian founders proud); don't make fun of the 507-3 vote at Town Meeting! I've been bragging to everyone about 3 votes at TM being my personal best. I attend not to win but to annoy people like you -- and I can tell that I have when they call me Babs and accuse me of attacking disabled kids. Points for my side!

    Good question, Bob (18); it is a common misunderstanding that Prop 2 1/2 llimited assessments. But it was actually a quick response to a 1978 SJC decision that our state constitution requires all property to be assessed at full and fair market value. Communities got local aid based on how poor they were, so towns didn't revalue , trying to look poor on paper; many homes were assessed at just a percentage of their real value. After the court ruled, we had a race with time to cut /limit the tax rate before the existing rates were applied to that real value, dramatically increasing local taxes and spending. Any limit on assessments would require a constitutional amendment, which is why Christy Mihos proposed Proposition 1 wasn't workable.

    Yes, Mark (23), that's our ideal too -- property taxes used for property-related expenditures like public works and safety, and (existing) broad-based taxes used for education (through vouchers, BTW). So far isn't happening. One possibly realizable goal might be to have SPED considered a human services issue, not a local education issue, with total state funding.

    Posted by Barbara Anderson May 8, 08 09:46 AM
  1. I am biased; I'm an unabashed paying supporter of CLT. Not because I agree 100% with everything that CLT&G does, but because I believe every institution in our state needs to have checks and balances, and that is exactly what Barbara, Chip, and Chip provide, a check to an unbalanced government in Massachusetts. I do enjoy the hyperbole that accompanies discussions like this, rather than a reasonable debate on the issue.

    In addition to my support of CLT, I am also the husband of a teacher so I have some first hand knowledge of the ramifications of failed overrides and am also a beneficiary of some of the largesse in the teacher’s contract. I don’t think you can “blame” the union any more than you can blame a defense attorney for getting his client off. The union exists to zealously advocate for its members, not for the welfare of the town or children. Why do any of us think otherwise? Do we pay our fair share of health insurance compared to the private sector, absolutely not. Does my wife get better benefits than she could ever get in the private sector today, absolutely. As a tax payer I hate it, but I also realize pointing the finger at the teachers or the union isn’t the answer. In all my years, I’ve never turned down a raise or known anyone who has, why should expect that they would?

    In my opinion, the problem lies in two areas, town government and the state government. First, local municipalities need to bring in professional negotiators who advocate for the citizenry as much as the union negotiators do for their constituency. Don’t blame teachers for pushing for the best deal they can get, blame the local government for having little or no vision as to the financial impact these programs have on the municipality. School committee members aren’t paid handsomely for the job that they do and I suspect they often choose to give in to a reduced but still financially ridiculous demand from the union for expediency, and who can blame them? Do we support these members when we start hearing from our children of the devastation in the school? Do we applaud them for thinking outside the box when the union cries foul? No, instead we have a tendancy to vote them out of office for making our lives a little inconvenient.

    Second, state government cannot continue to add additional programs and burdens onto local schools without ensuring they have the funding in place to provide for the program over the long term. Far to often, programs are added when “times are good” and the legislature needs to spend money before they have to give it back to the tax payers but this leads quickly to the next “financial crisis” when tax revenues only increase at 5 or 6 percent vs. the 10 percent needed just to maintain a program. We should continue (or in many cases start) to hold our state legislatures accountable for sponsoring and voting for expensive projects and programs that can’t possibly be sustained. If they continually support larger spending, then it is time to vote them out. There is no rational reason why our government spending should be increasing at a multiple factor over inflation.

    In my life, I have voted for some overrides and not for others and will continue each year to look at the overrides based upon what I see my town government doing to reel in spending and the tangible benefits I believe the community at large will derive from the override request. And every year I’ll head to the ballot box hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to vote for candidates that understand fiscal responsibility. In the meantime, Barbara, this years check in on the way. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Matt May 8, 08 09:47 AM
  1. For several years I've been a vocal critic of school spending in Ipswich and currently am active in opposition to the proposed $1.491 million override. I've reviewed the numbers over and over again. Over the last five years school expenditures have outstriiped the increases in the cost of living index by a considerable amount. If you add in benefits payroll costs account for more than 80% of total spending. Budgets have never been cut and significant reductions will never occur if all that can be chopped is elementary libraries, 4th Grade instrumental music and a few buses.

    Posted by John Meers May 8, 08 10:18 AM
  1. To: "A Marbleheader" #35
    I happen to be one of the 3 that voted in the negative on the school's debt exclusion override. I want you to be aware that I am a free thinker and not anyone's "minion", as you put it. My vote was based on PRINCIPLE. For at least 15 yrs the school committee and their successors have know this "emergency" existed and took no action. I observed the boilers then and was told "someday this is going to cost thet taxpayers big bucks and the school committee keeps sweeping it under the rug". Priorities of their 10 yr plan came first. Lo and behold tho..a miracle took place. The newly elected state rep was able to get an audience with the proper state agency and we are now assured of a 40% reimbursement. And that's not all! On the June override ballot will be another question to authorize the borrowing of $400,000 for a feasability study for improving another school and that will probably mean a new school to combine 2 elementary schools.
    As far as you being a "Marbleheader"...I AM one and two of the traits of a
    true 'Header are frugality and common sense. In other words, "tight with a buck". YOU my dear, are NOT a Marbleheader!!

    Posted by Jean May 8, 08 10:55 AM
  1. Lets look at how inflation works. Our system of economics is driven by our ability to take our costs and pass them on to the consumer. Every time unions and especially municipal unions, including teachers, negotiate a pay raise this has a wave effect throughout the entire economy. The costs of running a business Increases in direct proportion to the amount of taxes paid by the business and it's employees. The employees come back to the business and make the case that they need a raise to stay even with "inflation". The business then gives them a raise and passes it on to the consumer. The never-ending spiral of costs escalates both for the individual and for the government entity that started it all.
    The difference is that we can in the private sector decide whether to pay the high cost of goods or due without. In the public sector the dreams of grandeur knows no bounds. Whether it is a plan to put an entire road system underground or build a 200 million dollar high school the limits on spending our money by public officials are only limited by their imagination. As long as we tolerate these people in office the more out of control the inflation factor becomes. As long as they sell votes by making promises (most of which they can't or won't keep), the longer the spiral continues until it all falls apart because it is economically unsustainable.
    Norm Paley
    Scituate, MA

    Posted by Norman Paley May 8, 08 11:31 AM
  1. I just went out and purchased my final cup of coffee as I prepare for the next override. Used to be that I could enjoy three or four cups of coffee a day, that is until my town told me three or four overrides ago that each override would merely cost me a cup of coffee a day. Since the children are too young to drink coffee, I hope the teachers' union enjoys the additional cups of coffee each day they've taken from me. Brother, can you spare a coffee bean? You can find me panhandling in front of the downtown Wellesley Starbucks. Give 'em hell, Barbara.

    Posted by Ron Karjian May 8, 08 02:00 PM
  1. It used to be that education was more than schooling. But ever since the intellectual dregs poured into the teaching profession, schooling has become more or less the opposite of education. If you want your kids to get a good education, join a home-schooling network. And from the utterly mindless rules that teachers nowadays have to follow, I'm inclined to believe that it would take an awful lot for any self-respecting, competent person to remain a teacher in a government-run school.

    The state should permit towns to contract services, with the possible exception of police, out, without having to negotiate with any unions, especially teachers' unions. The state should pay for all mandates -- if there should be any mandates at all -- except for the minimal requirements (say, keeping property and voter records) of incorporated cities and towns. The state should establish stiff, criminal penalties for town officers who contract unfunded non-capital obligations.

    I'm not getting anywhere near the level of services for which my property taxes are ostensibly paying. I doubt the vast majority of property taxpayers are, either. But we're all getting thoroughly serviced.

    Posted by tdh May 8, 08 05:21 PM
  1. Massachusetts is aging..... and with older folks comes conservative views and
    also tighter personal budgets. Massachusetts is also losing people at an alarming rate. We lost 79,500 people the last 5 years. but the bulk of the
    age group that is leaving is 30 - 45. These are the wrong age group of people to leave the State. Why are the leaving? Its Economic... its simply costs to much
    to live here. You see we are now competing with other States for people. If
    the population shrinks so does the tax base. And with all the free services this
    state has to offer for both legal and illegal people (housing, food, education,
    health care) the State picks up the tab or WE pick up the tab. If the State and
    our elected officials could concentrate on the tax payer.... they would have more.....


    Posted by F. Rizzo May 12, 08 12:37 PM
  1. Barbara:

    Right on and keep up the good fight. Middleclass folks like myself are currently paying more than 50% of our total income to governments at various levels (30+% for federal income tax, 5+% for state income tax, 5+% for sales and other state taxes, 4+% for property taxes, and the rest in federal medical and social security payments!). I've paid for enough "community service" already. Wouldn't it be nice if they let us keep some of our money so that we could send our grandchildren to college or afford good health care or even save some money to take care of ourselves instead of ending up in a nursing home on medicaid.

    Thank you for trying to protect us from the hungry wolves who are always looking for more sacrifice from us so that they can spend our money as they see fit.

    Posted by lee nason May 13, 08 03:31 PM
  1. For those who think that one’s property taxes can only increase by 2 1/2% under Prop. 2 ½, consider Belmont: living in a house that has been essentially unchanged since 1997, my property tax has increased by almost 50%--an annual rate of increase of just under 4.5% a year. My experience doesn’t appear to be atypical, as during this same period the town’s RE tax receipts increased by about the same percent, as did its total revenues—despite the flattening of state aid. Compare this increase with the 28% increase in the CPI (which is what several bloggers use as their measure of inflation), implying an annual rate of a bit less than 2.5% a year—the same rate that Proposition 2 ½ imposes on the town.

    As with most people in the over-55 age group, our family’s annual income has not increased by 50% since 1997. So the concern that the wages of our town’s teachers and employees are not growing faster than inflation does not elicit strong feelings of guilt in me. Nor does the argument that the only way to reduce costs is by laying off teachers and/or increasing class sizes. How do others-- individuals or businesses--deal with inflation-caused cost increases? They seldom have the luxury of knowing they can look forward to 4+% increases in their income each year, so they have to do more with less. They give up some things that are low on their priority list. They find ways to do the really important things more efficiently, just as other service organizations are actively seeking less costly ways to provide their services, or they subcontract them to outside organizations that can perform them more efficiently. Or they adjust the rate of increase in employee salaries and benefits. In our town’s case, for example, our medical benefits appear to be more generous than many private programs—and even more generous than the medical benefits that Massachusetts provides its state employees.

    Posted by Bob in Belmont May 15, 08 11:58 AM
  1. I am only 21, I do not have any children.. but you better believe I am willing to pay to help educate the children in my community. MJ you make me sick. ANYONE, children or not, who complains about having to pay for education because "they don't have kids" or "its not their children" is a SAD SAD person. What happened to this country? I mean, I agree that there definetly should be some changes (i.e: benifits, pensions, etc), but are you kidding me? Here in Peabody the Highschool has holes and cracks in the floors. My mother is a teacher at the middle school and there are ants ALL OVER her classroom. At Salem High School you can't even see through the windows! God forbid it rain, because there are NEVER enough buckets to catch the leaks. Anyone who doesn't want to help the kids in their community with problems like this...is beyond selfish. Im no financial expert, and i know theres a lot of changes that need to be made.. but i know when something is wrong..and 3 children sharing a book because a school cant afford to buy enough.. well, thats wrong

    Posted by Kimmie May 24, 08 06:07 PM
  1. Lets not be naive. This isn't about a leaky roof, and lack of books "for the children".
    This is about the government and public employees unions taking more and more money from us, with total disregard for the means of the people who provide for them.
    And they'll be back again. If not for the "children", then for something else.
    The gov't gets a pay raise every year via prop 2 1/2 but that's not enough.
    How much will be enough ?

    Posted by Carlos June 16, 08 01:36 PM
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About override central Coverage of Prop 21/2 override campaigns in more than 30 communities in Greater Boston.
Christine Wallgren is a correspondent in the Globe South bureau.
David Dahl is the Globe's regional editor.
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