Ostriches don't really bury their heads in the sand -
but if they did, and I were an ostrich, I'd bury my brain deep enough
that it wouldn't know Christy Mihos is running for governor. Then I
could enjoy the fall campaign without fearing a third-party spoiler will
elect my next tax increase.
However, I can't hide from the Mihos "Proposition 1" television ad, in
which he tries to give away an imaginary number of tax dollars to
specific cities and towns, while looking and sounding like a used car
salesman: Come on down, Boston. Get your $219 million!
And suburban voters will want to give Boston $219 million more of our
hard-earned dollars ... why?
But that's a minor point. There is so much wrong with "Christy's
Proposition 1" that it's hard to know where to start.
First, what's with the numeral one? One what?
This is how Christy's Web site describes "Proposition 1: It will cap
property values from the time of purchase until the property is sold,
thus providing more certainty to homeowners, who will not experience
unpredictable increases in property taxes due to reassessment."
Sure, if I didn't know better, I could see the appeal: My plan at the
moment is to die someday in my bed at this address. Since my house is
small, I don't need to downsize. So if Christy's proposal worked as
advertised, my assessment would be frozen at its present $410,400 and I
would pay the Marblehead tax rate applied to that amount til death and
tax relief became certain.
Since the existing Proposition 2½ allows the local property tax levy to
increase 2.5 percent a year, regardless of what is happening with
assessments, those who buy a home here from now on would pay part of my
share of the total taxes, and the share of the others who've stayed put.
Sweet of them.
Doesn't seem quite fair, though. I will soon be on a fixed income
myself, but I don't have a mortgage anymore -- while most of the new
homeowners do. But of course, their assessments would be frozen, too,
after the initial huge leap upwards, and the next person to move into or
across town would pay more of the total. How long, I wonder, before
people stop moving, from other towns or other states?
California's Proposition 13 does freeze assessments, but people still
want to move to sunny California. Our population, on the other hand,
Of course "Proposition 1" could keep it stable -- we might not be able
to sell our homes and leave. And if I did want to move closer to my
grandchildren, who could afford to buy my little house and then pay
higher property taxes to cover the town McMansions whose assessments are
Even if I stayed, my town's property tax rate would keep adjusting to
account for the lower assessments. The rate would go up as far as
necessary to get the same amount of money from all taxpayers. This is
the way it used to be in Massachusetts before 1974, when the Supreme
Judicial Court ordered revaluation: Many assessments were artificially
low, and tax rates were high.
That SJC decision is a big problem for Mihos' signature issue. The
Massachusetts Constitution requires that all property be assessed at
full market value. Christy can't change that without a constitutional
amendment. He says that he can, but he can't.
He also says that if the Legislature won't pass "Proposition 1" he will
put it on the 2008 ballot. But a constitutional amendment takes four
years, and legislative support, to get on the ballot. As we know from
the gay marriage amendment, that legislative support is hard to get.
When asked about this constitutional issue in interviews, Christy says
that I'm wrong, that he told me to look up "Sylvester vs. the
Commissioner of Revenue."
Well, I did. And "Sylvester" concerns a veteran in Danvers who
challenged the five-year residency required for his property tax
exemption, and lost. The court ruled that a state can have residency
requirements. Can't see what this has to do with the constitutional
requirement that all property be assessed at full market value.
Right now "reasonable property tax exemptions and abatements" are
allowed for low-income seniors, veterans and the blind. But the tax
break for someone living in the same house for a lifetime would be huge,
Even if "Proposition 1" did get past the Legislature to the ballot,
would fair-minded voters want to give such a large exemption to some
young (inherited the house), wealthy, sighted, non-veteran stay-putter
at the expense of a blind senior veteran who for some reason had to
Property taxes are too high in Massachusetts, even with Proposition 2½.
Mihos and Deval Patrick insist that more local aid is the answer.
In fact, the state money sent to communities is often used to increase
"fixed costs" with higher pay and benefits, leading to either a Prop 2½
override or service cuts.
If you want to cut property taxes, guys, show us a tax-cut proposal --
not obscure and unworkable "plans."
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown
Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence [RI] Journal and