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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Setting priorities

The Globe highlights how 50 Massachusetts cities and towns are coping with those "waste, fraud and abuse" issues like health insurance premiums, special education costs, teachers, police officers and the medical bills of officers injured in the line duty.

Yep, it's that time of year again -- when town meetings and city councils look at the cost of providing basic services and figure out how to pay for them. In those 50 communities the answer is Proposition 2 1/2 overrides. In others, it's higher fees.

When Prop 2 1/2 was approved by voters in 1980, property taxes were soaring while the national economy was stagnating. Limiting the levy to 2.5 percent of total assessed valuation -- and holding annual increases to 2.5 percent -- the ballot question had lots of fans. The only way around that is a local referendum that specifies exactly how the extra funds will be used.

The skyrocketing property values of the next two decades helped to ease the transition, and overrides remain exceeding unpopular, often pitting homeowners with school age children against retirees.

But the law also presumed the state would help pay for the cost of mandated local services. And when the economy goes south, so does the state's share of the cost of those public safety and education services.

When Myth Romney came into office in 2003, Massachusetts was in the middle of one of those downturns that prompted the state to shift part of its slicing and dicing to the local level. Recovery has been slow -- but cities and towns have been able to cope somewhat thanks to the rising property values which raise assessments and overall tax takes.

But as last fall's gubernatorial election showed, the tolerance for higher property tax is just about done. Deval Patrick ran on a plank that promised to do something about it. Unfortunately, the state's economy is slowing (thanks in part to Romney's failure to lure the new businesses, jobs and taxpayers he promised in 2002) and the state doesn't have enough money to pay for property tax relief as well as new police officers.

But the no new taxes mantra that spawned Prop 2 1/2 continues to stymie a reasonable and rational debate on how to fix this cost-shifting problem.

That means many of those overrides will fail -- and with them teachers laid off, fire stations closed and streets will be left a little dirtier.

Prop 2 1/2 has served a valuable purpose, but isn't it time to mend it, not end it? Does a 27-year-old law continue to meet the needs of a state that no longer depends on the mini-computer industry that was going to lead us into the 21st Century?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if property taxes are increased much more, only the very rich will be able to stay in their own homes.

April 02, 2007 11:17 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Quite true -- and Prop 2 1/2 has stopped that from happening. We need new solutions that go beyond today's standard "no new taxes" refrain. Otherwise, they will continue to rise.

April 07, 2007 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what's worde, or more expensive...fees or property taxes? In my case, we own a modest home, and a prop 2 1/2 increase intaxes would have been a heck of a lot cheaper than paying $700 for school buses plus $245 per sport played at the high school level. My town, Canton, didn't pass an override so next year, my 9 year old will have 31 kids in his class and most sports at the high school will cease to exist because parents can't afford the exorbitant fees...$1,000 or hockey and gymnastics, $800 for football; $650 for basketball, volleyball etc. Where is the citizenship in this?? I agree we need ti fix prop 2 1/2. It no longer works.

April 30, 2007 3:57 PM  

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