and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Memo to the Joint Committee
H.159/S.146 - Proposed Chapter 40T

To:  The Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures & State Assets
         February 13, 2008

CLT hopes that the Legislature will not create more "independent" entities until the Commonwealth has found a way to deal with the fiscal problems of the existing "independent" agencies like the Mass Turnpike Authority and the MBTA.

We understand the original reason for creating "independent"authorities:  to let elected officials wash their hands of responsibility when things go wrong.  But we suspect citizens see it all as one big government that so often doesn’t work, and the governor and legislators as its most visible representatives.

The 40T District "developers in lieu of government" exist outside of the voter-controlled local government system, issuing tax-exempt bonds and collecting "assessments" from those who buy homes in their district.  While it is true that the buyers should know what they are getting into, we have noticed that "caveat emptor" didn’t work with the sub-prime mortgage market.

We appreciate that the "eminent domain" language was removed from the original stealth legislation, and that we are now getting public hearings and more legislative input.  But we find it hard to trust people who would even think of putting it in there and quietly slipping the bill through, in the first place.  Eventually, we suspect, they will get the eminent domain power they wanted, and the homeowners abutting the new development will be threatened.  Even with the present legislation, the minority property owners – the 20% that do not want to be included in this "quasi government" – will be assessed despite their objections and, as nearly as we can tell, could lose their homes if the developers default.

There are already provisions to get betterment payments for services that benefit only a limited area of property owners, keeping the process in the hands of elected local officials.

With the current market, there is no need to make this legislation a priority.  Regardless if who is elected President, we are already experiencing "change" – and it’s happening too fast for most of us to control.  Let’s not "change" the structure of local government until we are sure we haven’t passed another law of unintended results.

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