CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Thursday, December 30, 2004

Out with the old, in with the new


Homeowners across Massachusetts are getting hit with tax hikes as cities and towns send out adjusted tax bills for 2005 reflecting a banner year for residential property values.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Worcester Mayor Tim Murray. "One of the downsides to having a red hot real estate market in central Massachusetts is skyrocketing (assessments)." ...

Ted Jankowski, executive director of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the spiraling values of residential homes coupled with a slump in commercial property has shifted more of the tax burden onto homeowners. But that trend could be coming to an end.

The Boston Herald
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Giant tax bills sour New Year


Lawmakers have charged taxpayers $666,710 so far this year to travel to their State House jobs, a Herald review of the prized "per diem" perk figures show.

The 2004 travel cost is less than last year's $740,541 price tag, but lawmakers and Governor's Councilors still have months to claim their perk before the state Treasurer's Office closes its books....

Depending on where they live, lawmakers may claim $10 to $90 for every day they come to the State House, but they do not have to provide any receipts or proof to support their travels. The per diem perk is added to representative base pay of $53,380, or $60,880 if the lawmaker is a committee chairman. Senators receive $60,880 with their chairmanship duties. The per diem cash comes as lawmakers are poised for a 4.1 percent pay hike next month.

The Boston Herald
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Bay State reps carpe 'diem': Rake in travel perk dough


The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule within a couple of months on a suit brought by families in 19 poorer school districts accusing the state of failing to provide an adequate education to all students.

The suit, Hancock v. Commissioner of Education, has lawmakers and wealthier districts concerned that the court will order the state to enlarge and reslice the school-aid pie....

It is unclear whether the court intends to decree what amount of money constitutes "adequate" or to leave that decision to the Legislature. The suit contends that the state's 1993 Education Reform Act did not do enough to bridge the financial gap between rich and poor school districts. Plaintiffs in April won a major victory when Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford ruled that poorer districts have made progress but are still not providing students an adequate education...

Some observers say the state is already spending enough on education and question whether more money is the answer. State aid to schools increased 12 percent each year over the past decade.

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Towns brace for ruling on school aid formula


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Here we are at the close of another year, with the new one but two days away and looking to be equally interesting. One of the best results of 2004 was that we citizens of Massachusetts still have John Forbes Kerry as our junior U.S. Senator; of course that's the bad news as well.

More good news is that we were able to successfully fend off assaults on Proposition 2. The bad news is that revaluations and reassessments have still spiked up homeowners' property taxes. But stop and think how much far worse it would be without Prop 2 during these cyclical "fiscal crises" if there was no upper limit! Fortunately we had the foresight to get out an explanation for this phenomenon before more could claim it was a failure, wasn't working, needed to be changed, even abolished.

Let us not forget the "embarrassment of riches" that many of our cities and towns wallowed in -- and squandered during the last cyclical economic boom, while our taxes remained high and municipal as well as state spending doubled (especially see teachers union, below).

Legislators begin pocketing their automatic, constitutionally-mandated pay raises next week, thanks to the voters of the commonwealth. Another $2,188 a year for rank-and-filers will bring their base salaries up to about $55,500. Of course that doesn't include all their perks, and yesterday the Boston Herald reported just one of them: their coveted "per diem" pay will cost us an additional $666,710 -- "so far." We don't call them "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" for nothing!

In the coming months the 800 pound gorilla we taxpayers must closely watch is the so-called "Hancock v. Commissioner of Education" law suit now before the state Supreme Judicial Court. This legal challenge has been brought in large part by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the teachers union that spent $1,050,000 (of the $1,760,000 contributed by combined teachers unions) in its futile all-out attempt to defeat our 2000 tax rollback ballot question.

The teachers union, if you recall, was also the force behind challenging our signatures in 1997 and getting our first tax rollback petition tossed off the 1998 ballot over twenty-six signatures. It used every despicable and underhanded method imaginable if only in your worst nightmare -- including explicitly implying that their subpoenas for a multitude of signers to appear in court came from us! In the end, the MTA spent some $2 million to kill our petition in its cradle.

In its new release of May 3 ("Statement of MTA President Catherine A Boudreau in response to Gov. Mitt Romney's call to cut the income tax to 5 percent") the state's most well-funded teachers union stated:

"Just one week ago today, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford issued a compelling and carefully documented 358-page report in which she concluded that the plaintiff school districts are not receiving the funding they need to provide all students with the quality education to which they are constitutionally entitled. This decision has been forwarded to the Supreme Judicial Court, and it could lead to a mandate that the state provide significantly more funds to our public schools....

"In light of these realities, it is unconscionable that Gov. Romney is willing to further jeopardize quality education in Massachusetts by proposing a deep reduction in the income tax."

As always, what the state's largest teachers union can't win at the ballot box -- when they can't sway public opinion despite their virtually bottomless deep pockets ($400,000 of what they spent against us in 2000 came directly from the National Education Association, their parent union) -- they attempt to win by any other means whatsoever. Democracy has never been a prevailing principle at the MTA -- and More Is Never Enough (MINE) for them, and never will be.

In its Oct. 5 editorial, "Lesson is $ alone won't improve schools," the Boston Herald reported, "More than a decade has passed, $30 billion in new money spent" on education reform. Still, that is not enough for the teachers union.

And it never will be. Just look at where so much of that skyrocketing local property tax alone is going, and which special interest relentlessly is demanding more, and more -- "for the children" don't you know.

Enjoy the remainder of the holidays, but be prepared to man the barricades in the months ahead; to leave behind the plow, pick up your proverbial musket, and come a'running to muster at the sound of the alarm.

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Giant tax bills sour New Year
By Jack Meyers


Homeowners across Massachusetts are getting hit with tax hikes as cities and towns send out adjusted tax bills for 2005 reflecting a banner year for residential property values.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Worcester Mayor Tim Murray. "One of the downsides to having a red hot real estate market in central Massachusetts is skyrocketing (assessments)."

"A lot of that has to do with people getting priced out of Boston, the Route 128 area," Murray said. "People are seeing the value they get out here."

In the long run, people have a very valuable asset but in the meantime it translates into higher taxes. In Worcester, taxes on the average three-family are rising $550 while a single-family's levy will go up $140, Murray said.

Sharp hikes hit people on fixed incomes the hardest so the city offers a "double abatement" for elderly homeowners, Murray said. The program uses city and state money to lower property taxes for lower income seniors.

In Somerville, owners can expect to get tax bills this week - but without the shocking tax hikes they received two years ago. The average bill will go up $76 this fiscal year, "the lowest tax increase in the last three years," said Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

That hike is a fraction of the $497 average hike of two years ago when the city suffered a $12 million cut in state aid, said Curtatone. That drop in state aid "has put an incredible burden on the residential taxpayer," he said.

That's hardly news to long-time Somerville homeowners Walter "Sonny" Oleson and his wife Claudine.

"Every time we get a tax bill we get more, and you can't do a damn thing about it," said Oleson.

His pay as a steelworker had always been enough to support his family. But his rising tax bill - now more than $4,000 a year - means painting the house will have to wait, and the 10-year-old Grand Marquis in the driveway won't be replaced anytime soon.

It's no secret that soaring home values are behind much of the sticker shock. He only has to look at his neighbors to see how things have changed in Somerville. The blue-collar neighborhood is now home to computer and corporate types.

"Now we're the poor guys," he said.

Ted Jankowski, executive director of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said the spiraling values of residential homes coupled with a slump in commercial property has shifted more of the tax burden onto homeowners. But that trend could be coming to an end.

"My prediction is we'll see a slowing in the residential (market)," said Jankowski. Interest rates are starting to climb and "if you see a 2 percent rise in the interest rate, that translates into a 22 percent increase in the monthly cost of a mortgage. That's going to have an effect on the market," he said. "It's cyclical."

In Boston, the average tax bill is going up about 10 percent, according to city figures. That reflects a continuing escalation in residential property values while commercial vacancies keep business taxes down.

Boston's tax hike this year is more modest than last year's, when some tax bills went up 30 percent or more.

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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bay State reps carpe 'diem': Rake in travel perk dough
By Ann E. Donlan


Lawmakers have charged taxpayers $666,710 so far this year to travel to their State House jobs, a Herald review of the prized "per diem" perk figures show.

The 2004 travel cost is less than last year's $740,541 price tag, but lawmakers and Governor's Councilors still have months to claim their perk before the state Treasurer's Office closes its books.

Rep. Daniel E. Bosley (D-North Adams) topped this year's list with $12,780 - $90 each for 142 131-mile trips to the State House.

"It does surprise me," Bosley said yesterday. "Where was Peter Larkin on the list? It's always the Berkshire guy. This is the only time we're Number One. I have the longest commute in the state, so for every day I'm in, I get $90. It pretty much covers my apartment in Boston, telephone, electricity and heat. It really doesn't cover the cost of my car."

Rep. Peter J. Larkin (D-Pittsfield) is looking for private-sector work, according to state records, but he managed to come in third on the list at $10,440, behind William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox), at $10,800, who slipped this year from his top spot in 2003 when he claimed $14,850.

Rounding out the Top 10 claims were: Rep Peter V. Kocot (D-Northampton) at $8,514; Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield) at $8,280; Sen. Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) at $7,920; Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg (D-Amherst) at $7,620; Rep. Demetrius Atsalis (D-Hyannis) at $7,400; Rep. John P. Fresolo (D-Worcester) at $7,236; and Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. (D-Pittsfield) at $7,200.

Depending on where they live, lawmakers may claim $10 to $90 for every day they come to the State House, but they do not have to provide any receipts or proof to support their travels. The per diem perk is added to representative base pay of $53,380, or $60,880 if the lawmaker is a committee chairman. Senators receive $60,880 with their chairmanship duties. The per diem cash comes as lawmakers are poised for a 4.1 percent pay hike next month.

Senate President Robert E. Travaglini (D-East Boston) shuns the per diems for himself but is supportive of members who need the money to support their families, said spokeswoman Ann Dufresne.

"He doesn't file for anything extra," Dufresne said of Travaglini, who makes $88,380, the same as House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi (D-Boston). "It's because he lives so close to the State House."

DiMasi lists his home as the nearby North End, but that doesn't stop him from taking $10 a day. He filed for 197 days at the State House, for a $1,970 per diem check.

Among the lawmakers who have not yet filed for per diems are Rep. John H. Rogers (D-Norwood), Rep. Michael F. Rush (D-West Roxbury), Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), Rep. Angelo M. Scaccia (D-Boston), Rep. Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton), Rep. Anne M. Paulsen (D-Belmont), Rep. Arthur Stephen Tobin (D-Quincy), Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios (D-Cambridge), Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees (R-East Longmeadow), Sen. Robert A. Havern (D-Arlington) and Sen. Robert L. Hedlund (R-Weymouth).

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The Boston Globe
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Towns brace for ruling on school aid formula
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff


If you're scratching your heads over varying amounts of aid the state has given communities for education, you're not alone. So are school officials and state lawmakers.

In state aid per student this year, Shrewsbury received $2,220, Marlborough $1,244, Franklin $3,607, and Framingham $1,012, according to the state Department of Education.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule within a couple of months on a suit brought by families in 19 poorer school districts accusing the state of failing to provide an adequate education to all students.

The suit, Hancock v. Commissioner of Education, has lawmakers and wealthier districts concerned that the court will order the state to enlarge and reslice the school-aid pie.

To avoid being caught flat-footed by the ruling, lawmakers want to create a panel to determine the cost of complying with a ruling for the plaintiffs, which could force the state to funnel millions of additional dollars toward struggling schools.

The panel would also examine how the state calculates yearly subsidies, a complicated formula based primarily on a community's property values.

The state has steadily increased aid to school districts since the Education Reform Act of 1993, which created the MCAS standardized tests. Poor urban districts receive far more state aid than middle-class and affluent districts. But some districts of different size but similar socioeconomic status receive sharply different amounts of aid, prompting widespread criticism that the program is arbitrary and unfair.

Framingham Superintendent Christopher Martes said he would welcome change in a system that has shortchanged the district for years.

"There's no formula you could create now that would hurt Framingham any more than it does now," he said. "It's a matter of what degree."

The other fear among suburban educators is that lawmakers would be unwilling to spend enough to satisfy the court and instead choose a "Robin Hood" approach of shifting dollars from affluent districts to poorer ones. Even in wealthy communities, reduced state aid could force tax hikes and teacher layoffs, administrators say.

"I don't want to see a system where funding for the top schools is driven down to bring the bottom up," said Perry Davis, superintendent of the Dover-Sherborn Regional School District. "That's not addressing the problem; that's just shifting the costs."

Representative David Linsky, a Natick Democrat who is cosponsoring the measure, said the Legislature needs a firm estimate of the costs in anticipation of the court's ruling. Linsky said the government has a "moral and legal obligation" to ensure that all students receive an "adequate" education as required under the state's constitution.

Noting that any plan that would channel aid away from area schools would meet staunch opposition, Linsky wants an overall increase in state spending on education.

It is unclear whether the court intends to decree what amount of money constitutes "adequate" or to leave that decision to the Legislature. The suit contends that the state's 1993 Education Reform Act did not do enough to bridge the financial gap between rich and poor school districts. Plaintiffs in April won a major victory when Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford ruled that poorer districts have made progress but are still not providing students an adequate education.

Linsky said lawmakers agree the current aid formula is "too complicated and inequitable, but that there's little consensus on what comes next."

Jeffrey Young, superintendent of Newton schools, said he hoped the Legislature would vote to increase educational spending across the board, with the majority flowing to urban districts whose student test scores lag behind those in wealthier districts.

"If it means splitting up the same size pot, it could mean less for Newton," he said. "That's certainly a fear."

The proposed panel would have a $1.5 million budget and hold public hearings before reporting back to the Legislature by September 2006. The commission would consist of educators, legislators, business leaders, and representatives from various policy groups. It would be charged with examining such areas as special education, class sizes, teacher salaries, and full-day kindergarten.

Linsky said there is broad support for the plan, and he expects the Legislature to consider it early next year.

Some observers say the state is already spending enough on education and question whether more money is the answer. State aid to schools increased 12 percent each year over the past decade. In October, several SJC justices expressed skepticism that more money would improve the low test scores and high dropout rates.

John Petrin, Marlborough's assistant superintendent, said that overhauling the financing system, inequities and all, is bound to stir opposition.

"If you take money from Franklin and give it to Framingham, what's Franklin going to do?" Petrin asked. "We can talk all we want about [the program] being broken, but people have to realize there's no easy fix."

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