Ever since voters passed Proposition 2½ in 1980, its
opponents have set forth reasons there should be an override of its tax
limit. I admit that after hearing about "the suffering children of
Wellesley," I tuned out for awhile. But this year I note the most
interesting argument: the threat of teenage crime waves if school
overrides don't pass. In Wenham, as one citizen predicted in a letter to
Or perhaps in Ashland, where a woman writes of "the dark realities: If
families cannot pay for participation (in sports), the kids may get lost
and turn to destructive behavior. ... The crime threat to all citizens
will increase ..."
Let's hope this suggestion doesn't register with the kids in Sudbury,
who may lose their "high school sailing and ski teams" along with their
cheerleaders. As one unsympathetic taxpayer wrote: "Give me an N, give
me an O — No Override."
If there is no other reason to vote against an override, consider the
lesson that might be learned by young people: You are not entitled to
play at the expense of people who may need their money for something
more important to them than your recreation.
I have a new interest in the "cost is only a cup of coffee a day"
argument, because though I never liked coffee, three years ago I noticed
a friend adding ice cream instead of cream and sugar.
I now enjoy choosing exotic flavors found at low prices at Marshalls.
Once a day I have my coffee ceremony: smell the vanilla macadamia or
butterscotch toffee coffee as I spoon one scoop into a filter, put some
ice cream with nuts in my Thomas Jefferson mug, pour microwaved water
over the Kona or Arabic. When I finish it, there are coffee-soaked nuts
to savor in the bottom of the mug. A highlight of my day, and who are
these override people to say I should give it up to satisfy their
Maybe they don't mean me, sipping cheap at home; sometimes they refer to
a cup of Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks coffee, perhaps one of several
consumed daily by caffeine addicts. One Warren Gray, in a letter
opposing the Hamilton override, notes that after years of overrides,
"the citizens can no longer afford 20 cups of coffee a day!" Not to
mention the cost of boatloads of coffee beans already paid in property
taxes before the overrides.
As one of the activists who placed Proposition 2½ on the ballot for
voters to decide, let me address another argument often heard by
override proponents — that overrides are part of that law, that the
limit was meant to be overridden.
Not exactly. When we drafted the original initiative petition, we
included a "safety net," just in case there was a community emergency,
something unanticipated like a court judgment or town hall burning down.
In 1980 people were very angry about Massachusetts property taxes, among
the highest in the world. It never occurred to us, when we put in an
override provision, that taxpayers would vote to increase their own
taxes to pay for operating expenses, for teacher pay raises, for public
employee benefits that far exceed what private sector workers have.
Prop 2½'s creators also didn't anticipate that towns would prioritize
those raises and benefits while neglecting maintenance or ignoring
inevitable capital costs. Marblehead is looking for a debt exclusion of
almost $20 million to overhaul a middle school that needs to replace
ancient boilers, then the heating system they service, then the roof
that protects them, etc. I attended a School Committee meeting on the
subject; we were told that if we don't pass the debt exclusion this
year, we will have "severe disruption," including tiles falling on
teachers' heads. When I asked if the teachers union was made aware of
this potential danger when the last pay hike was negotiated, proponents
were surprised by the assumed connection, explaining to me that "the
teachers deserve a raise."
So I guess that means that I deserve a pay cut, which is what an
override means to those of us on fixed incomes. Why can't towns budget
for inevitable future repairs, as I saved up for my new furnace and roof
because I always knew the original ones weren't immortal? Instead we
have the standard school management plan; neglect creates crisis creates
override. And apparently, anticipated capital costs are rarely mentioned
during union negotiations.
I must tell you about the Westborough School Committee, whose members
recently released a
statement: "Clearly, the town can no longer afford the offer that
the teachers declined in October, and the School Committee will not even
contemplate the most recent proposals made by the new WTA negotiating
team, which are even more costly than last fall's tentative agreement.
...Over the years, the residents and taxpayers of Westborough have
provided generous and consistent support for the Westborough schools and
our teachers. However, the Westborough School Committee does not support
a Proposition 2½ override as it recognizes the need to keep
Westborough's schools affordable to all residents."
I take this as a hopeful sign that another tax revolt is beginning.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.