CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Sunday, March 14, 2004

During the current political vacuum ...


Lawmakers appeared reluctant to embrace the measure, which would ban gay marriage and create civil unions for gay couples. The key interest groups, whose participation would probably be crucial to a ballot fight in November 2006, are adamantly opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment.

"I'm not sure there's going to be anybody behind it," said Chip Ford, director of operations for Citizens for Limited Taxation, a statewide advocacy group that has fought for and against ballot measures in Massachusetts for decades. "It's a compromise, but everybody's going away unhappy."

The Boston Globe
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Marriage measure a shaky solution


"To see these hypocrites going to the microphone, talking about their sacred constitution, makes anyone who has ever held a petition in their hand - it has to make them sick," said Citizens for Limited Taxation chief Barbara Anderson.

The Boston Herald
Sunday, March 14, 2004
State pols defend 'messy' process of deliberations


Except it now turns out Finneran's hypocrisy will cost the taxpayers of the commonwealth several million dollars, which is the projected cost of the unsuccessful defense of another redistricting scheme -- this one designed to divide Boston's minority population so it would not comprise a majority in most of the city's House districts. Among them was Finneran's own 12th Suffolk District.

An Eagle-Tribune editorial
Tuesday, March 9, 2004
"Finneran's plan"


Emboldened by a strongly-worded opinion from three federal judges, a political watchdog group called on federal prosecutors Tuesday to investigate whether Speaker Thomas Finneran committed perjury when he claimed ignorance of the House redistricting process in court last year.

Common Cause of Massachusetts, a non-partisan government watchdog group that has tangled with Finneran in the past, asked US Attorney Michael Sullivan to examine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat who has led the House since 1996.

State House News Service
Tuesday, March 9, 2004
Common Cause asks US Attorney
to weigh perjury case against speaker


First it was the state raising every fee in sight in an effort to close the budget gap projected for the current fiscal year. And now it appears the practice of collecting money from people by means other than a "tax" is spreading to cities and towns.

A Salem News editorial
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Fee frenzy spreads to cities and towns



Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

You know the political oxygen's being sucked out of the Beacon Hill atmosphere when CLT is getting calls only about the gay marriage issue. As always, we can be reliably counted on to express our cynicism for politics-as-usual, even if it's not our issue.

*                    *                    *

Have you read the newspapers lately? There's very little coverage that doesn't relate to the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

But the constitutional convention has provided a plethora of hypocrisy dancing in the aisles of the House chamber. Legislators are contorting themselves into knots trying to pull off a John Kerry slick all-things-to-all-people-all-the-time position.

My favorite -- quite parochially -- came from my state representative, Doug Petersen, in the final moments of Thursday night's debate. I sent him the following e-mail:


To:  Rep. Doug Petersen
From:  Chip Ford, constituent
             Marblehead, MA  01945

Dear Representative Petersen:

There was an astounding amount of shameless and disingenuous oratorical posturing by many members of yesterday's con-con concerning their alleged concern for the sanctity of the state Constitution and proper procedures for amending it.

Most of those same legislators were instrumental in defying its mandate only two years ago when it fit their purposes; when some 130,000 signers of an initiative petition to amend it were summarily dismissed without a vote. This too frequently is the result after the "little people" do the hard work provided for in and required by Article 48 of the Constitution to propose amendments -- an effort that time after time doesn't so much as come up for the constitutionally mandated vote by the Legislature.

Such transparent situational ethics and hypocritical rantings increasingly are falling on the deaf ears of a cynical and awakening electorate.

But my ears perked up while watching the debate when you took to the podium and made your closing speech. Are you honestly not aware of either your own embarrassing hypocrisy or your apparent ignorance of relatively recent history?

The State House News Service has provided an accurate transcript of your remarks, though hearing them for myself last night was sufficient:

"Rep. Petersen said... What precedents are we setting? What group is next to have its rights taken away? The slippery slope is right here, opening the door to legislators and citizens to take away the rights of people they just donít like. One could make the argument that this is a step in the process...."

Representative, are you truly not aware that the precedents have been set by you and your colleagues over many years, have since become well-established legislative tradition?

I need only point out Chapter 180 of the Massachusetts General Laws, which eroded in the extreme a citizen's constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Doug, you greased that "slippery slope ... opening the door to legislators and citizens to take away the rights of people they just donít like."

But now I'm expected to believe that you're concerned about "What group is next to have its rights taken away?"

The question you should have considered asking is, "What group was last, which has brought us to this point?" Representative, you helped construct that "slippery slope" toward diminishing rights and eroding constitutional guarantees.

"What group is next?" you asked rhetorically. I'm sure we won't have to wait long to find out, and I won't be shocked to find you on the wrong side.

Actions speak louder than words, and like so many hollow words from so many of your colleagues, yours clashed resoundingly with your past actions. Those words will no doubt be coming back to bite you.

Chip Ford --


Alleged "fiscal conservative" House Speaker Tom Finneran has cost taxpayers millions of dollars to gerrymander legislative districts to his advantage, a plan that recently was thrown out by a U.S. district court. Now it's costing us taxpayers even more to clean up his mess. (See:  Mar. 6 CLT Update, "Has anyone not had enough of this corruption yet?")

At least his "lack of credibility" as the court termed it -- in most circles also known as perjury -- will not go unchallenged, as did former senate president and UMass president Billy Bulger's testimony before the U.S. Congress. Our ally in legislative reform has officially requested that the U.S. Attorney investigate Finneran's testimony. Common Cause's letter asserts: "we call upon your office to initiate with all due speed a full investigation into whether Speaker Finneran committed perjury in this important case."

*                    *                    *

The latest boutique revenue scam -- taxes disguised as fees -- is spreading fast and now infecting local taxpayers. Earlier this year I predicted that Citizens for Limited Taxation would soon have to change its name to Citizens for Limited Fees ... as this is the new order of things to separate taxpayers from their earnings. Prepare for mounting "fee" increases and the never-ending creation of more and more new "fees" for services once funded by our taxes.

If fees keep sprouting up for actual services, then what are you getting for your taxes that used to pay for those services? Pay raises for teachers, administrators and other public employees of course. The cities and towns have jumped on the "fees" bandwagon big time and this pathology is spreading fast.

We're continuing to look toward a court challenge of illegal fees. It's going to take serious money to afford such a lawsuit and we're weighing the potential as this year's membership drive response comes in. A couple members who have family affected by the despicable nursing home bed "granny tax" have come forward -- and I'm ready to be a plaintiff to challenge the 400% firearms license fee increase. This scam must be halted, now. If these fees effect you, we need to hear from you now.

If we don't stop this newest revenue scam in its tracks, we'll never have to worry about unpalatable tax increases again ... as we're increasingly fleeced with more and higher "fees."

Chip Ford


The Boston Globe
Sunday, March 14, 2004

Marriage measure a shaky solution
By By Rick Klein, Globe Staff


Outside the State House last week, the passion over gay marriage was clear. Supporters held a candlelight vigil and called attention to the adopted children of gay couples. Opponents shook signs declaring homosexuality a sin, with some shouldering wooden crucifixes around Beacon Hill.

But inside the House chamber, the tedious legislative process had ground the drama into a mushy compromise that no one loves.

Lawmakers appeared reluctant to embrace the measure, which would ban gay marriage and create civil unions for gay couples. The key interest groups, whose participation would probably be crucial to a ballot fight in November 2006, are adamantly opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment.

"I'm not sure there's going to be anybody behind it," said Chip Ford, director of operations for Citizens for Limited Taxation, a statewide advocacy group that has fought for and against ballot measures in Massachusetts for decades. "It's a compromise, but everybody's going away unhappy."

The most influential and best-funded groups on both sides of the gay-marriage debate now stand ready to campaign against the proposed amendment if it reaches the statewide ballot in 2006. They are devising various scenarios to scuttle the measure before it gets there, either when the convention reconvenes March 29 or in the 2005-2006 legislative session, when it must be approved again. "It will more than likely draw opposition from two opposing camps, both operating under the theory that half a loaf is worse than none," said state Representative Robert S. Hargraves, a Groton Republican who opposes gay marriage and civil unions.

The result: a compromise without a constituency that, even if it clears the Legislature, could have difficulty attracting major political backing for a ballot fight.

Among lawmakers and interest groups, liberals don't like the compromise because they view civil unions as falling far short of the promise of gay marriage that was established by the Supreme Judicial Court. Conservatives don't like it because they see civil unions as equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples.

The architects of the amendment say the fact that neither the political left nor right has embraced the compromise demonstrates its beauty.

They argue that their measure is designed to appeal to the vast middle, that banning gay marriage and establishing civil unions in the same stroke is something the majority of Massachusetts residents agree with, even if activists on both sides don't.

Yet lawmakers' ambivalence was evident last week, even among those who were voting for the amendment. The compromise has only stayed alive so far because of shifting and temporary political calculations; at different times, liberals and conservatives have lent support even though they oppose the measure, in hope of achieving their preferred result down the line.

The amendment's genuine supporters spoke far less about civil unions than they did about what they described as their duty to send the voters something. Over nearly 10 hours of debate Thursday, only a handful of lawmakers praised the measure, while thunderous criticism came from all sides.

House Ways and Means Chairman John H. Rogers, one of the supporters, called the compromise a "principled paradox," capturing the conflicted core of the amendment.

Social conservatives took to the House floor to denounce the amendment as contradictory and possibly dangerous to religious institutions.

How can marriage be declared unique if civil unions are established as the legal equivalent of marriage, they asked. Several Republican lawmakers said they fear that activist judges would use the statute to order churches to open their doors to gay civil union ceremonies.

Ronald A. Crews, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, referred to the compromise as an "orphan amendment," because no one seems to be firmly behind it.

"It would be difficult to get something like this passed by the people, because the people on both sides of the issue would be against it," he said.

Not long ago, liberals would have been thrilled with civil unions for gay couples. But with the SJC ruling on the books, anything that bans gay marriage is viewed as writing discrimination into the state constitution.

Gay-rights advocates are not satisfied with the amendment's guarantee that civil unions would provide "entirely the same" rights and benefits as marriages. Civil unions, they argue, would not be recognized in other states and would not give them access to federal rights and benefits.

"They're taking away rights," said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "They can't expect us to not be unhappy."

In most other states that have debated gay marriage, the issue hasn't been whether to enact civil unions. Instead, voters or state legislators have decided whether to declare marriage solely to be the union of a man and a woman, a clearer, if more limited, framework that has aroused passionate debate in many states.

Thirty-eight states have defined marriage as the union between one man and one woman.

The lone state with civil unions in place, Vermont, only went that far under court order, and that was accomplished at the legislative level, without an amendment to the state constitution.

In Massachusetts, lawmakers were spurred to action by the SJC, which went further than the court in Vermont by enunciating a constitutional right for gays to marry. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, the two most powerful State House legislators, cosponsored the amendment that includes both a gay-marriage ban and civil unions, and they have rallied lawmakers behind what they view as the most tenable compromise.

Backers say they have public opinion behind them. A Globe poll last month found that 53 percent of Massachusetts residents oppose gay marriage, and 60 percent support civil unions. In addition, 71 percent of respondents said they want voters to be able to define marriage, not the courts or the Legislature.

Representative Gale D. Candaras said she backs the compromise because she feels it is important to get something on the ballot, so voters can weigh in. She predicted that it would eventually be approved by voters despite campaigns against it, even though she said she had no plans to work for its passage. "I'm not going to be out there fighting for this amendment," said Candaras, a Wilbraham Democrat. "This is beyond me. This is a matter that people hold in their hearts and their minds, as part of their tradition.

"This doesn't satisfy the far left, and it doesn't satisfy the far right, but politics is the art of compromise," she said. "The vast, silent majority, at least in my district, will ignore the far left and ignore the far right and will go to the polls and will vote for this."

Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg, a gay-marriage supporter, said the deep divisions in society and the Legislature leave the situation fluid. With few lawmakers or citizens staunchly in favor of civil unions, he said, an entirely different amendment or no amendment at all may emerge from the Constitutional Convention later this month. "This is far from resolved," said Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat. "It's an extraordinarily difficult and perhaps impossible challenge to come up with a compromise on this issue."

Crews, the gay marriage opponent, declined to comment on how his group would treat the amendment if it reaches the voters, saying only that he's focusing on killing it in the Legislature. At the very least, he said, voters should have an opportunity to decide separately on the issues of gay marriage and civil unions.

Elizabeth Sherman, a research fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said most in the Legislature and the public probably want to dispose of the issue entirely. That argues for public acceptance of a compromise, she said.

But well-funded campaigns by both liberals and conservatives would change the equation at the ballot box.

"It's a compromise that will probably appeal to the general population," Sherman said. "But if both sides are going to be pushing for a no vote, then we're going to be right back where we started from. It doesn't sound to me like there's going to be any mobilization, money, or leadership on behalf of this resolution."

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The Boston Herald
Sunday, March 14, 2004

State pols defend 'messy' process of deliberations
By Elisabeth J. Beardsley


Crippling indecision or democracy in action?

The take on state lawmakers' inability so far to pass a gay-marriage ban depends very much on whom you ask.

Often a bastion of fast-gaveling and predetermined outcomes, the Legislature now faces the rare situation in which leaders struggle to gain a simple majority and nobody can predict the end result.

Veterans of past culture wars say the protracted debate - three constitutional conventions and counting - is the necessary result of an amendment process designed to be deliberate and hard. The legislature is scheduled to return to the issue on March 29.

"Democracy is messy," said ex-Rep. John Slattery, whose 1997 change of heart killed a death-penalty bill on a tie vote. "Whether it's doing the Legislature proud or not is in the eye of the beholder."

Republicans blasted lawmakers for being able to pass a secret pay raise in the blink of an eye, but unable to get out of neutral on gay marriage even after three years of kicking it around.

The state GOP said that was the very inaction that drove the state's high court to act on gay marriage.

"There's an appearance of incompetence," said Republican Party Executive Director Dominick Ianno. "The Democratic leadership looks bad."

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran (D-Mattapan) insisted the debate showcases pols in the "best light."

"If the public is tuned in to the debate, I don't think they can help but be impressed," Finneran said. "No matter which side was being debated, it was debated in thoughtful, cogent, oft-times inspiring words."

Except for those moments when somebody, notably Finneran, was pulling chicanery, critics said.

The speaker threw a February session into uproar within five minutes of its start when he unexpectedly seized the floor and tried to force through his own amendment.

Legislative detractors were appalled at the specter of lawmakers preaching the importance of allowing the people to vote - after years of what they called undermining voter-approved initiative petitions, including a gay-marriage ban two years ago.

"To see these hypocrites going to the microphone, talking about their sacred constitution, makes anyone who has ever held a petition in their hand - it has to make them sick," said Citizens for Limited Taxation chief Barbara Anderson.

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The Eagle-Tribune
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

An Eagle-Tribune editorial
"Finneran's plan"


A few years ago, in a poorly disguised effort to punish Congressman Martin Meehan, D-Lowell, for failing to toe his line, House Speaker Thomas Finneran sought to eliminate Meehan's district and create a new one closer to Boston which, it was maintained, would have a majority of minority voters.

The transparency of Finneran's plan, and the fact that it would also have separated Lynn from Congressman John Tierney's North Shore district, forced the House leadership to abandon that scheme. No harm, no foul.

Except it now turns out Finneran's hypocrisy will cost the taxpayers of the commonwealth several million dollars, which is the projected cost of the unsuccessful defense of another redistricting scheme -- this one designed to divide Boston's minority population so it would not comprise a majority in most of the city's House districts. Among them was Finneran's own 12th Suffolk District.

Those 17 districts are now being redrawn as a result of a recent 1st Circuit Court of Appeals finding that Finneran and his lieutenants had sacrificed "racial fairness to the voters on the altar of incumbency protection."

Not only has that ruling disrupted the normal process of selecting legislators in those districts, it has left taxpayers on the hook for the several million dollars in fees racked up by the outside lawyers and consultants hired to defend the House, along with any reimbursement the court rules is due the plantiffs' attorneys.

Many saw this one as a loser right from the beginning. The number of minority voters exceeded 50 percent of those registered in Boston as of the 2000 census, yet they constituted a majority in only five of the city's 17 House districts under the plan drawn up by Finneran's loyalists in 2001.

According to Burton Nadler, who represented those objecting to the plan, House leaders "never offered us any discussion about realistic, potential compromise." This despite the fact they could cite "all the other redistricting cases around the country over the past 50 years, and it was pretty clear from the evidence in those cases that this was a clear case of packing in order to dilute the minority vote in other parts of the city."

It's an expensive lesson about which, naturally, one has thus far heard few complaints from members of the Finneran "team" on Beacon Hill. Guess no one there wants to be the next Marty Meehan.

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State House News Service
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Common Cause asks US Attorney to
weigh perjury case against speaker
By Michael C. Levenson


Emboldened by a strongly-worded opinion from three federal judges, a political watchdog group called on federal prosecutors Tuesday to investigate whether Speaker Thomas Finneran committed perjury when he claimed ignorance of the House redistricting process in court last year.

Common Cause of Massachusetts, a non-partisan government watchdog group that has tangled with Finneran in the past, asked US Attorney Michael Sullivan to examine whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Finneran, a Mattapan Democrat who has led the House since 1996. A former Republican state representative, Sullivan and Finneran were colleagues in the House for six years.

Common Cause Executive Director Pamela Wilmot told reporters at the group's offices in downtown Boston that "the citizens of the Commonwealth expect and deserve that public officials will tell the truth." In the redistricting case, she said, "it appears the Speaker was not truthful."

A spokeswoman for the US Attorney confirmed receipt of Common Cause's request but, citing US Department of Justice policy, could neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation would be launched. Through an aide, Finneran also declined comment.

The investigation, if granted, would be conducted in secret and could take years to complete. It would also require a particularly high legal bar to prove that Finneran made false statements willfully and not unintentionally. Perjury is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Common Cause leaders said they decided to call for an investigation after the three federal judges who presided in the redistricting case - Bruce Marshall Selya, Douglas Woodlock and Michael Ponsor - tacked a tartly worded footnote onto their ruling last month.

After hearing Finneran's testimony on the stand and in a sworn deposition, the judges said that although the Speaker claimed ignorance of the House's redistricting process, "the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the opposite conclusion." Circumstantial evidence is admissible in perjury cases.

The judges noted that Finneran "handpicked" the members and chairman of the House's redistricting committee, and "ensured that the Committee hired his boyhood friend and long-time political collaborator, Lawrence DiCara, as its principal functionary." 

And, "last - but far from least," the judges wrote, "Finneran's in-house counsel, John Stefanini," was one of only four legislative staffers who had redistricting software installed on his computer in Finneran's "office suite."

"Perjury is not an easy charge to prove," said Jeanne Kempthorne, a member of Common Cause's board who also served as a top deputy from 1992 to 2003 in the US Attorney's Office, including several years as chief of public corruption.

But, Kempthorne said, "This is such an important case and here you have a very distinguished panel of judges in a footnote saying the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the testimony was not accurate. We would be remiss in not calling at least for an investigation." 

Wilmot also noted that Finneran claimed under oath not to know the name of the legislative district he has represented since 1979 - the 12th Suffolk - or that he retained paid staff on his political campaign. Both statements stretch credulity, Wilmot said.

Sullivan was named US Attorney in 2001, but also served three terms with Finneran in the House, where he was elected as a Republican representative in 1990.

If Sullivan launches an investigation, it would allow the FBI to interview witnesses, subpoena documentary evidence, and convene a grand jury to consider whether enough evidence exists to return an indictment, Kempthorne said. The process could take months or years, and never be disclosed publicly unless it is leaked, she said.

But Common Cause officials expressed confidence that an investigation would turn up evidence showing Finneran was enmeshed in the redistricting process. "We all know there are people in that building who know things," Wilmot said, referring to the State House. "If they are called under oath, we'll see whether they testify or not."

Common Cause leaders hand-delivered their request to Sullivan Monday and said they chatted briefly with his deputies about the case.

Wilmot declined to characterize the exchange other than to say Sullivan's aides were aware of media coverage surrounding the case. Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Sullivan, confirmed that the letter had been received but otherwise declined comment.

Common Cause, whose stated mission is "to ensure open, honest, accountable and effective government," has battled Finneran in the past, including a high-profile fight over the Clean Elections law, which Common Cause eventually lost. 

Common Cause officials denied their call for an investigation was politically motivated. Wilmot quoted one of the group's mottos. "No permanent friends, no permanent foes," she said.

Inside the State House, where some critics say Finneran's credibility with his colleagues has been stretched by the gay marriage and redistricting debates, reaction to the announcement by Common Cause was muted, if audible at all.

Reached by phone, Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he had not heard much chatter about the issue, but felt it could become part of the debate about the direction of the House.

"Anything that deals with the direction of this institution needs to be considered by us," he said.

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The Salem News 
Thursday, March 11, 2004

A Salem News editorial
Fee frenzy spreads to cities and towns


First it was the state raising every fee in sight in an effort to close the budget gap projected for the current fiscal year. And now it appears the practice of collecting money from people by means other than a "tax" is spreading to cities and towns.

Salem is still contemplating a surcharge on admissions to its tourist attractions, and Marblehead recently succeeded in getting a home-rule bill passed that will allow local police wide discretion in ticketing those who park on the town's streets.

Massachusetts citizens can take some degree of comfort in the fact state government has pretty much exhausted the use of fees as a means of boosting revenues, and both Gov. Mitt Romney and legislative leaders say they will not go back to that well again this year. According to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, last year's fee increases, the highest in the nation, yielded an estimated half-billion dollars.

"The estimated $500 million of fee increases that support the 2004 budget - including hikes in Registry of Deeds fees far in excess of any reasonable measure of the cost of services - will surely hit taxpayers' pocketbooks as hard as any tax increase and, many would argue, less fairly as well," the watchdog group opined last summer. "It is striking that the amount generated from the fee increases is more than half the $800 million in tax hikes approved for 2003. Also, because of the deep cuts in local aid, property taxpayers in dozens of cities and towns are facing large rate hikes that fall disproportionately on lower-income residents."

Well, those large property tax hikes have come to pass in many communities - spurred as much by the rising imbalance between residential and business property values as the decline in local aid - and now some are facing a torrent of fee increases as well. And as with the property tax, which is based on the value of one's home rather than your ability to pay, these fees and fines don't discriminate between those who are poor and those who are wealthy.

The ticket surcharges being sought by officials in Salem and Topsfield seem as much an attempt to tweak the large institutions, the Peabody Essex Museum and Topsfield Fair respectively, which operate in those communities, as a means of raising new revenue. And they're more politically palatable inasmuch as they would mostly affect out-of-towners.

Salem's ticket tax has yet to go before the Legislature, where it should receive the same dim reception as greeted Topsfield's effort to assess a surcharge on fair admissions last year. Sadly, a few Topsfield citizens are seeking to renew their crusade this spring, proposing fees on the operators of parking lots and private vendors who do business on or near the fairgrounds.

On the other hand, officials in Marblehead appear to be gearing up for a ticketing spree as a result of legislation that somehow made it past the governor's desk, allowing police to issue fines - which can be appealed only as far as town hall rather than to the courts - for everything from an expired inspection sticker to improperly attached license plates. The only saving grace here is that it will likely hit residents of the town at least as hard as it will those just visiting.

You can get an idea of the mindset at work here from the comments of Topsfield Assessor John McArdle, one of the 10 citizens petitioning for the new fees, who said, "We need everything we can get our hands on. At this point, we have it where just about all the town's costs are being borne by homeowners."

There are a couple of alternatives: Cut spending, or encourage new commercial and industrial growth. Voters have indicated in numerous forums recently that they feel taxes are high enough, and are unlikely to view a wholesale expansion of fees and fines as an acceptable substitute.

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