CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT UPDATE
Monday, December 1, 2003

MTF correctly ID'd by Springfield newspaper ...
even if by mistake


Lowell isn't alone. Around the region, property values have increased with the real estate market. In Chelmsford, middle-class homes in areas such as South Chelmsford have gone up more than 50 percent in a decade. In Westford, taxes on the three-bedroom homes that make up Court Road have jumped more than 90 percent....

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, said her organization has proposed a number of measures to reduce property taxes. They include limiting a community to one override of Proposition 2 a year, redefining new growth and removing school budgets from the property-tax burden.

As for the trend of the last decade, Anderson said rising real estate values are an uncontrollable variable.

"It's a matter of appreciating values," Anderson said. "The fact is, people bought a little home at $34,000 and never thought they'd be paying high property taxes because they live in a low-value home."

The Lowell Sun
Saturday, November 29, 2003
There Goe$ the Neighborhood
As property values climb, homeowners have little choice but to pay price


There's something troubling about state employee unions using payroll deductions to support candidates they will then lobby to enhance their members' pay and benefits, but there's nothing illegal about it. State and municipal employees are still citizens, and have a right to try to influence the actions of elected officials.

But that doesn't mean taxpayers should have to cover the cost and administrative burdens of collecting the contributions to union political action committees.

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
Sunday, November 30, 2003
PAC play


The governor and state Legislature are still several months away from the tough decisions they'll have to make to balance next year's budget, but there's not much cause for optimism....

When state and local officials get to the revenue side of the ledger, they need to think first about taxes and second about which taxes are the least painful. To that end, they should consider the results of a recent poll completed by the University of Massachusetts....

We shouldn't be surprised that, given the choice, most people don't want taxes raised or services cut. Unfortunately, elected officials won't be given the option of having their cake and eating it, too.

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
Monday, December 1, 2003
Budget a test of leadership


According to a report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the state budget earmarks $830 million for prisons and only $816 million for higher education in fiscal 2004.

The state's budget-makers should be embarrassed into action by the MTA [sic] report....

It's a crime if the state spends more on prisons than on the education of its future leaders.

A Springfield Republican editorial
Monday, December 1, 2003
Education or prisons? A no-brainer in Mass.


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

The Springfield Republican, Springfield's left-wing daily newspaper, missed the obvious in its editorial today, falling head over heels for the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation's latest "report." Too bad its editorial board failed to read the Boston Herald's editorial published last Wednesday.

"The state's budget-makers should be embarrassed into action by the MTA [sic] report," the Springfield Republican today opined in a no doubt Freudian slip. Truly, one could easily mistake the report's author, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF), in this instance as speaking for the MTA -- the Massachusetts Teachers Association -- just as I charged in my commentary only last Tuesday.

You have the opportunity to watch CLT go nose-to-nose with MTF this evening on New England Cable News. Chip Faulkner, CLT's associate director, will take on Michael Widmer, MTF president, at 8:00 pm on NewsNight with Jim Braude and Chet Curtis. 

Chip Ford


The Lowell Sun
Saturday, November 29, 2003

There Goe$ the Neighborhood
As property values climb, homeowners have little choice but to pay price
By Jason Lefferts, Sun Staff


When Jerry Cole moved into his Virginia Avenue home 44 years ago, he paid $10,000 for what a city official derisively called a "chicken coop."

Over the years, the Belvidere street continued to develop. The trees and open space that surrounded Cole's two-bedroom ranch were filled with homes. What was once an empty corner of the city was now filled up.

In the last 10 years, there hasn't been much construction on Virginia Avenue. Instead, older families are moving out of an area that is no longer a chicken coop but is considered one of the city's best neighborhoods. They are being replaced by younger families, willing to pay ever higher prices for their new homes.

For someone like Cole, who has no intention of moving any time soon, the sales and rising property values are seen only in his annual property-tax bill. 

Since 1993, his tax bill has doubled, from $1,046 to $2,109. That's a rate faster than even the rest of his street, where the average tax bill has increased a robust 65 percent over the last decade.

The home he bought for 10 grand is now valued by the city at $153,200 after doubling in value in the last 10 years. Cole has made calls to City Hall to complain about the constant increases, but he's resigned to his fate. All he can do is pay the bills.

"I've gotten to the point where I don't even bother anymore, because you have to pay it anyway. You have to grin and bear it, I suppose," Cole said. "This street goes up (in value) all the time. We're just getting used to it. Who are you going to complain to?"

Different areas, very different tax rates

Ten years ago, the average property value on Virginia Avenue was slightly less than on Dover Street, in the Lower Highlands. In the last decade, however, Dover Street values have risen only 27 percent. The two streets had average tax bills that were only $51 apart in 1993, but now Virginia Avenue's $2,218 average is $444 higher than that of Dover Street.

Virginia Avenue is a prime example of how climbing property values have meant higher taxes for many middle-class homeowners. Lowell's tax rate is a penny higher than it was in 1993, but homes in the neighborhood that were valued at an average of $97,700 a decade ago are now assessed at $161,000, piling higher taxes on owners.

Susan LeMay, the city's assessor, said Virginia Avenue is typical of the overall real-estate pricing trend in Lowell.

"We found around the city, in the outskirts, the values increased more so than in the center of the city," LeMay said. "If you look at those areas, you're looking at more bedroom-type areas."

Lowell isn't alone. Around the region, property values have increased with the real estate market. In Chelmsford, middle-class homes in areas such as South Chelmsford have gone up more than 50 percent in a decade. In Westford, taxes on the three-bedroom homes that make up Court Road have jumped more than 90 percent.

In many suburban communities, new construction has been marked by the mini-mansions that earn high earnings for developers and high tax revenues for communities. But at the same time, long-established neighborhoods have also seen taxes skyrocket.

Prop. 2 not helping

Not even Proposition 2, the state law designed to put a drag on property-tax increases, has been able to slow the trend. The law limits the total amount a community can tax each year by capping annual increases at 2.5 percent (plus growth created by new development), but it does not limit increases on individual properties.

An annual 2.5 percent increase over 10 years would result in a total increase of 31.1 percent from 1993 to 2003 the $1,344 average Virginia Avenue bill in 1993 would rise to $1,761 in 2003. But in reality, the average has gone up double that amount.

On Dover Street, in contrast, values have risen slowly enough so the average bill has increased 27 percent below the 2.5 percent-per-year hikes.

Cole, the Virginia Avenue homeowner, grew up in the Dover Street region and remembers it as a nice neighborhood. He knows, however, that while Dover Street has stagnated, his Belvidere neighborhood is one of the strongest in the city.

"It's a great neighborhood," he said. "It's excellent. Every day is like Sunday. It's still very quiet."

'Matter of appreciating values'

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, said her organization has proposed a number of measures to reduce property taxes. They include limiting a community to one override of Proposition 2 a year, redefining new growth and removing school budgets from the property-tax burden.

As for the trend of the last decade, Anderson said rising real estate values are an uncontrollable variable.

"It's a matter of appreciating values," Anderson said. "The fact is, people bought a little home at $34,000 and never thought they'd be paying high property taxes because they live in a low-value home."

On Oak Road in Westford, residents have seen their property values and their taxes more than double in the last 10 years.

In 1993, the average value on the street was $109,648, and the average tax bill was $1,594. Since then, values and taxes have jumped 110 percent to $230,974 and $3,351, respectively.

The street in the Nabnasset neighborhood is made up mostly of three-bedroom homes. Town Assessor Jean-Paul Plouffe said values throughout town were dragged upward by the construction of larger homes that originally sold for $400,000 or more and skewed the town's values.

"Westford has seen tremendous growth over the last seven to 10 years," Plouffe said, adding that "$275,000 to $300,000 is (considered) affordable, and that would buy you a small ranch or Colonial."

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The MetroWest Daily News
Sunday, November 30, 2003

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
PAC play


There's something troubling about state employee unions using payroll deductions to support candidates they will then lobby to enhance their members' pay and benefits, but there's nothing illegal about it. State and municipal employees are still citizens, and have a right to try to influence the actions of elected officials.

But that doesn't mean taxpayers should have to cover the cost and administrative burdens of collecting the contributions to union political action committees. That commonsense proposition was raised by Gov. Mitt Romney earlier this year to stop the practice of having the state administer payroll deductions for union PACs.

The Democrats who run the Legislature -- and who are the largest beneficiaries of donations from the state employee PACs -- think otherwise. They slipped into a supplemental budget bill a provision reversing Romney's policy and putting the responsibility for administering the PAC collections back on the state.

Romney says he'll veto that provision, and that's a good thing, though it's unclear exactly how much this provision costs. The principle is worth his veto: We're happy to pay our fair share into the paychecks of state and municipal employees. But they should pursue their political goals on their own time -- and their own dime.

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The MetroWest Daily News
Monday, December 1, 2003

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
Budget a test of leadership


The governor and state Legislature are still several months away from the tough decisions they'll have to make to balance next year's budget, but there's not much cause for optimism. 

The economy may be picking up, but nobody is predicting a surge in state revenue sufficient to bridge a structural deficit now pegged at between $1 billion and $2 billion. Legislators are already warning municipal officials to expect a cut in local aid in the neighborhood of 10 percent.

As we saw this year, a cut in local aid generally translates into a cut in local services, a rise in property taxes, or both. Even communities that managed to soften the blow this year by tapping rainy day funds will have a hard time coping with rising expenses and shrinking state aid next time around.

When state and local officials get to the revenue side of the ledger, they need to think first about taxes and second about which taxes are the least painful. To that end, they should consider the results of a recent poll completed by the University of Massachusetts. Among its findings:

  • 54 percent of respondents oppose any increases in state or property taxes

  • But, by a 48 percent to 24 percent margin, respondents would rather see taxes raised than services cut

  • 54 percent of respondents have seen property taxes increase significantly, while 33 percent said they haven't

  • Respondents split the blame for higher property taxes, with 28 percent saying the economy is to blame, 27 percent blaming local officials, 20 the state Legislature and 11 percent Gov. Mitt Romney.

  • If taxes must be raised, 35 percent said they'd prefer an increase in state sales, income or gas taxes; 4.5 percent said they'd prefer an increase in property taxes.

We shouldn't be surprised that, given the choice, most people don't want taxes raised or services cut. Unfortunately, elected officials won't be given the option of having their cake and eating it, too.

Like any poll, this one -- a survey of 401 residents with a margin of error of 5 percent -- is simply a snapshot of public opinion. What counts isn't how well a politician follows polls, how well he or she leads public opinion. Next year's budget, like this year's, will be a real test of leadership on Beacon Hill.

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The Springfield Republican
Monday, December 1, 2003

A Springfield Republican editorial
Education or prisons? A no-brainer in Mass.


Massachusetts is known for its universities and colleges. It's not just Smith, Harvard, Amherst and Mount Holyoke that have earned a reputation for the state. The public higher education system is a model for other states.

Yet, after three years of deep cuts in funding for public universities and colleges, the state government now spends more money on prisons than it does on higher education.

According to a report by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the state budget earmarks $830 million for prisons and only $816 million for higher education in fiscal 2004.

The state's budget-makers should be embarrassed into action by the MTA [sic] report.

There are many members of the Legislature who recognize that higher education is the key to the state's economic future, particularly those members who represent the Pioneer Valley, home to the flagship campus, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. They have passionately argued for higher education funding.

Yet, as the state's severe budget crisis has worsened, support for higher education fared poorly with other demands on the budget. When the lawmakers saw the outstretched hands of a rape crisis counselor, an AIDS patient, the parent of a mentally retarded child or a representative of any one of many human service agencies standing alongside a young and healthy UMass student in search of limited resources, it wasn't much of a contest.

Gov. W. Mitt Romney can renew the state's commitment to higher education by signing a bill to restore $10 million for the UMass five-campus system and contains $34 million for negotiated salary increases for 13,000 higher education employees.

The long-term solution is even simpler: Stop putting so many people in prisons and jails.

The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, created in 1993, spent nearly three years developing new sentencing guidelines to make the best use of prison space to lock up the most dangerous criminals.

The Legislature has yet to adopt the guidelines, but the MTA report should be the push needed for change. The guidelines, for example, propose less expensive alternatives to prison or jail for first-time and non-violent offenders.

It's a crime if the state spends more on prisons than on the education of its future leaders.

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