Here's a scary thought for
Halloween: What if Proposition 2½ had not been passed by
the voters on Nov. 4, 1980?
Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) recently hired
Gerald Amirault to research the impact of Prop. 2½ on
some individual taxpayers, whose assessed values and tax
rates could be traced by their local assessors back to
1970. Using an annual compounding factor, their average
property tax increase was determined for those 10 years
prior to 1980, along with their average increase in the
25 years since. From these figures we were able to
determine what they would be paying this year if Prop.
2½ hadn't passed.
Of course this is a "what if" study. It could be
speculated that if Prop. 2½ had not passed, angry voters
might have eventually abolished the property tax
altogether. Or after continuing years of the third
highest taxes in the nation, there may have been a
population exodus and property value decline.
The CLT study assumes a status quo over 25 years, with
compliant taxpayers, and property values that increase
despite the tax burden on owners.
Since government can never get enough, so it is assumed
that even without Proposition 2½, the trend toward
higher user fees, particularly water, sewer and trash
fees, would have continued after 1980. Some of the tax
increases during this period were the result of Prop. 2½
overrides or debt exclusions, with all but one of the
communities studied having passed at least one. What
follows are case studies of nine actual tax-paying
households in Massachusetts. I begin with myself.
Taxpayer A, in my five-room cottage that was purchased
Property value, 2005: $376,400. Tax bill: $3,109.
Average annual property tax increase before Prop. 2½:
8.81 percent. Average annual increase since Prop. 2½,
even with several Marblehead overrides: 5.38 percent.
If the pre-Prop. 2½ trend had continued, my present
property tax bill would be $6,710. I saved $3,601 this
Taxpayer B, a Marblehead businessman living with his
wife and four children in the small cape that was built
by his lobsterman grandfather. Located on Marblehead
Harbor, it has always carried a relatively high
assessment. So the savings for Taxpayer B is a
relatively small $617 this year. However, he also owns
the property next to Taxpayer A, which he rents to ...
Taxpayer C, a taxpayer activist who pays part of the
$4,032 tax bill in his rent on this cottage that is
assessed at $488,100 because it's attached to some rare
Marblehead open space. The savings from Prop. 2½ on this
property: $6,341 this year alone.
Along with the property tax levy limit, Prop. 2½ created
a rental deduction from the state income tax, and cut
the annual auto excise rate from $66 per $1,000 of
valuation to $25 per $1,000. The tenant also deducted
$2,448 from his state income tax for this year, and
saved $77.99 from the auto excise cut.
Taxpayer D, a couple, now in their early 50s, bought
their four-bedroom colonial in 1977 and raised three
children, one still at home. The city of Malden, where
she teaches, has never had an override. The taxes
increased 5.75 percent a year on average during the
1970s and 0.966 percent annually after Prop. 2½ became
law, saving them $5,834 this year alone.
Taxpayer E, an orthodontic lab technician and
illustrator of children's books, with two dogs and two
cats, reside in a Topsy-style, four-bedroom cottage near
the water in Scituate, where the couple raised three
children as they added rooms. Their savings this year
Taxpayer F, a semi-retired executive-federal
official-educator and his wife, who have three sons and
five grandchildren, live in a home now valued at over $1
million in Rockport, which has had many overrides and
debt exclusions. Their annual tax increases before and
after Prop. 2½ were not as dramatically different as
those of the other taxpayers — 7.985 percent before, and
6.249 percent afterward. Nevertheless they saved $5,520
Taxpayer G, a couple that has lived together for many
years in a modest home with a swimming pool. One is a
systems analyst and the other was appointed by then-Gov.
William Weld as the official astrologer of the
commonwealth. They have two dogs. Their taxes increased
3.083 percent a year on average until Saugus had the
highest vote for Prop. 2½ in 1980. Since then the
average increase has been 0.906 percent and they saved
$2,173 this year alone.
Taxpayer H, a retired Air Force master sergeant and his
wife, raised four sons in a Billerica bungalow, where
two sons still live and they entertain three
granddaughters. They saved $2,400 this year toward the
one-story home they are building.
Taxpayer I, a recent widow with one grown son, has just
retired from social work and lives in her East
Bridgewater family home, inherited from her grandmother.
She saved $1,260 this year.
The property tax limit may still scare people who like
unlimited taxes, but it's safe to say that all
homeowners, renters and drivers have saved a bundle over
Happy Halloween-week birthday, Proposition 2½ — and many
PROPOSITION 2½ AND YOU
A Study of the Impact of Proposition 2½ on Massachusetts
Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Proposition 2½
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.