It's an all too familiar scene for the state's cash-strapped cities and towns. Families of school-age children push officials for a Proposition 2 1/2 property tax override to come up with money for a new school, library, or other big expense. When the vote comes, seniors on fixed incomes show up in droves to kill the measure.
Now lawmakers are pushing a bill that would let cities and towns exempt seniors earning less than $60,000 a year from the overrides. Supporters say the bill is a tax break for seniors, but critics say it is just a way to help push through property tax increases.
Yesterday, House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bill, which now heads to the Senate.
The bill links the tax breaks to the property tax override itself, and that is irking some critics, who say the bill is just a way to entice seniors to look the other way.
"Seniors are our first line of defense against overrides," said Barbara Anderson of Citizens for Limited Taxation. "Senior citizens are defeating these overrides, and they are trying to give them a reason not to vote."
The bill's sponsor, Representative Ruth Balser, said the bill would give local city councils, boards of aldermen, and town meeting members the option of giving lower-income seniors a tax break if voters adopt an override.
The tax exemption would apply to homeowners 65 or older with an income of $60,000 or less, provided that their real estate taxes exceed 10 percent of their income.
Republican lawmakers opposed the measure.
"This bill is a very cynical attempt to do an end-run around Proposition 2 1/2," said Representative Donald Humason, a Westfield Republican. "It will come back to bite us in the end."