Saturday, March 01, 2008
Local senators plan to vote against Prop 2˝ exemption
By Edward Mason
A bill that would effectively exempt some seniors from Proposition 2˝
overrides will likely face an uphill climb in the Massachusetts Senate.
The House overwhelmingly approved the bill yesterday, 111-34. Under it,
people 65 or older would get a tax abatement when a Proposition 2˝
override is approved in their hometowns. Seniors with a family income of
$60,000 or less would be eligible if their property tax bills are at
least 10 percent of their incomes.
Senate lawmakers said the proposal raises a host of concerns.
House lawmakers argued the bill would provide tax relief to low- and
moderate-income seniors. But Sen. Steven Baddour, a Methuen Democrat,
said the House bill is an effort to make overrides easier to pass by
getting seniors, seen as an obstacle to passing overrides, to vote for
"If you want to provide relief to seniors and others, we should do
that," Baddour said. "You should not do an end-around Proposition 2˝."
Baddour, who'll vote against the measure, also said allowing some
seniors the option of not paying the cost of an override could have
unintended consequences. For instance, Baddour said, some seniors could
be exempt from paying for an override to pay for a new senior center.
That, he said, would be wrong.
"I don't think we should take seniors out of the process altogether,"
Fairness also is at the heart of Sen. Susan Tucker's concerns. The
Andover Democrat said she's leaning against the bill, which strikes her
"This just shifts the burden to others in town," Tucker said. "And young
families are struggling equally."
Proposition 2˝, which voters statewide approved in a 1980 ballot
referendum, limits increases in property taxes to 2.5 percent a year.
Exceptions are allowed for new growth on property tax revenue from new
property added to the tax rolls.
Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation, which led the fight for the property tax cap, said she
doesn't like making exceptions to overrides.
"We don't like picking out a certain group," Anderson said. "Seniors
earning $60,000 and not paying a mortgage are putting off the taxes on
young couples who are paying mortgages."
Gov. Deval Patrick has not taken a position on the bill. That worries
Anderson, who said similar bills failed because of veto threats by
Republican governors. She said she is counting on the Senate to be a
"firewall" against what she sees as an erosion of Proposition 2˝.
It's not clear when the Senate will take up the bill. Majority Leader
Sen. Frederick Berry, D-Peabody, did not return calls and Sen. Bruce
Tarr, the Republican assistant leader from Gloucester, could not be
But with town meeting season approaching and cities and towns setting
their budgets, the bill could be taken up soon.
Anderson contends the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton,
of trying to get money for a Newton high school project with an
out-of-control budget. But some people on Beacon Hill said it is part of
the larger financial crisis sweeping cities and towns and landing at the
"It's another piece of the whole discussion about finding revenues and
the impact (of budget crises) on cities and towns," said Sen. Thomas
McGee, D-Lynn, who's unsure how he'll vote.
Baddour said he would amend the House bill to allow seniors to defer
paying any increase to property taxes voted for through an override.
Anderson said she hopes to meet with Patrick's administration and
finance secretary, Leslie Kirwan, to make a pitch for vetoing the bill
if it passes the Senate.
Tucker, an outspoken advocate for senior citizens, said lawmakers are
faced with difficult choices.
"I detest issues that pit one group against another," Tucker said, "in
this case, struggling seniors against struggling young families."
The Attleboro Sun-Chronicle
Sunday, March 2, 2008
A Sun-Chronicle editorial
Deception on Beacon Hill
Here's a switch: There's legislation on Beacon Hill which would give a
tax break to senior citizens. Democrats are for it. Republicans are
That alone is enough to raise suspicions. But there are plenty of other
reasons for the Legislature to reject this bill, which has already been
approved by the overwhelmingly Democratic House.
Under the bill, a city council or town meeting could exempt Proposition
2˝ override increases for homeowners over age 65 with an annual income
under $60,000 and whose property tax payment is more than 10 percent of
their income. Proposition 2˝ is the state law approved by referendum in
1980 capping communities' property tax increases at 2˝ percent unless
voters back an override. Over the past eight years, the state's 351
cities and towns have approved more than half of 1,040 Proposition 2˝
The senior tax break bill was filed by state Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton,
who argues that this exemption would help thousands of senior citizens
who are living on fixed incomes and trying to remain in their homes
despite skyrocketing property tax bills. The exemption, she said, is a
local option that would only apply in cities and towns that accept it.
"Seniors have bought their properties 30 or 40 years ago and their
values are soaring," she said. "They face very high property taxes and
are either retired or living on a fixed income."
But there's more to her support than that. Newton's mayor and other
officials in that city are desperately seeking a Proposition 2˝ override
after construction of a new high school swelled to more than $200
million. There's little doubt that this bill would aid Newton officials'
It's exactly this reason why we side with Republicans in the local
legislative delegation in opposing this bill. As they say, the exemption
is a clever but misleading idea, designed to get more senior citizens to
vote for Proposition 2˝ overrides and not pay the consequences. They
noted that the exemption would increase the number of overrides across
the state and put the tax burden of seniors on the backs of low-income
and fixed-income younger families that are already struggling to pay
their own mortgages, health care premiums, college tuition and a myriad
of other escalating expenses.
"We try to put together legislation that treats people equally," said
state Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield. "People other than seniors are in
the same situation. They can't afford the increase either."
The idea of a consequence-free tax vote is troubling. What would stop
senior citizens in a community from banding together to put an override
question on their town's ballot to build a new senior center - and then
not have to pay for it?
We are generally in favor of providing tax relief for those who need it.
That's particularly true for senior citizens who struggle to pay their
But that relief should be tied to age and income, not to a vote taken by
This legislation is clearly intended at winning over senior citizens -
often the most dependable bloc of voters - during close override
The Telegram & Gazette
Sunday, March 2, 2008
A Telegram & Gazette editorial
Divide and conquer
House vote targets Proposition 2˝
Property tax relief has been the mantra of Gov. Deval L. Patrick and
lawmakers loudly bemoan cities’ and towns’ dire fiscal straits. Belying
their expressions of concern, the Massachusetts House last week passed,
largely along party lines, a bill intended to undercut Proposition 2˝ by
pitting senior citizens against younger homeowners.
Proposition 2˝, enacted in 1980 by citizen petition to restrain the
growth of property taxes, has succeeded in part because of its built-in
flexibility. Communities that feel the spending cap is too restrictive
may vote to override it, as Worcester did to boost school revenue.
Voters also may exclude one-time expenses — for, say, a fire station or
playground — from the Proposition 2˝ cap.
The House-passed measure would distort that process by allowing senior
citizens with incomes up to $60,000 a year to file for an abatement of
the taxes resulting from such exclusions. As Barbara Anderson of
Citizens for Limited Taxation pointed out, the intent at least in part
is to make it less likely seniors would turn out for Proposition 2˝
votes. Indeed, although seniors on fixed incomes generally resist tax
hikes, they likely would be less resistant to tax increases they would
not be required to pay.
While billed as tax relief, the House measure would simply shift the
burden of the increase to a smaller pool of taxpayers — including young
families already struggling to meet child-raising and mortgage expenses.
For most, the measure would not relieve the tax burden but instead would
add to it.
Tellingly, the sponsor of the measure is Rep. Ruth B. Balser of Newton,
where officials are facing a taxpayer revolt over plans for a palatial
new high school — designed by the famed architectural firm of Graham
Gund — that was to cost a hefty $141 million but now is expected to cost
an astounding $200 million.
Can Ms. Balser’s fellow Democrats really be ready to weaken Proposition
2˝ to help Newton officials build their ostentatious educational Taj
The Senate should give this misguided assault on taxpayers and
Proposition 2˝ a quick, unceremonious burial.
The Springfield Republican
Monday, March 3, 2008
A Springfield Republican editorial
New tax increase by another name
Remember when our state was derisively referred to as "Taxachusetts"?
Well, those unhappy days are here again in more ways than one. In cities
and towns all across the commonwealth, promises of lower property taxes
are turning out to have been as hollow as ever. But don't start thinking
that things couldn't get much worse. They could - and they just might.
On Thursday, the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a
bill that will effectively make it easier for communities to pass
Proposition 2˝ overrides. They didn't say that was what they were doing,
of course, but that is what will come out of their action if the state
Senate follows suit.
Proponents say that the measure in question offers senior citizens a
break by shielding them from higher property tax bills when Proposition
2˝ overrides are passed in a city or town. The particulars:
Municipalities could exempt from the effects of overrides those older
than 65 with household incomes of less than $60,000 whose real estate
tax would be more than 10 percent of their total income.
The reality? Older citizens will be more likely to stay home when
there's an override vote. And since the elderly are generally more
reliably opposed to overrides, cities and towns will have an easier time
pushing through more tax increases. Sometimes these will be for
big-ticket items such as schools or libraries, but in other cases the
additional revenues will be used to pay for normal operations.
This is not how overrides were supposed to be used. They were supposed
to be for extraordinary circumstances, not for run-of-the-mill
mismanagement, for pensions for retired city workers and exorbitant
health-care costs for current employees.
And everyone in town was supposed to have a say in whether an override
This bill is just a gussied-up tax increase for homeowners across the
state. Senators have got to see this plan for what it is and reject the
measure. If they blindly follow the House's lead, you'll eventually be
paying higher taxes.
The Boston Herald
Monday, March 3, 2008
A Boston Herald editorial
No relief in this tax bill
Surprise, folks! Political expediency won out over sensible public
policy in the House last week. And from the sound of the debate one
might assume our state reps actually believed the bunk they were
peddling about providing “property tax relief” to elderly homeowners.
The House voted 111-34 to support a bill that gives cities and towns the
option of exempting certain elderly homeowners from any tax increase
associated with a Proposition 2˝ override.
It’s for the seniors, the bill’s sponsors insist.
But surely in their more honest moments even they would admit the bill
provides an awfully convenient way to sideline those pesky,
penny-pinching old folks who happily turn out at the polls to defeat
Prop. 2˝ overrides.
At the very least, can they admit that property tax “relief” for one
class of homeowner will mean an even bigger increase for another?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s municipal class warfare, brought to you
by your friends on Beacon Hill!
The bill at hand would exempt elderly homeowners who earn less than
$60,000, and whose tax bill exceeds 10 percent of their income. Sponsors
crow that it is especially fair because the bill gives communities the
option of the senior homeowner exemption.
For lawmakers, though, that really means a political twofer: They get to
curry favor with municipal officials who want ready access to more cash
(as well as with those taxpayers who insist that Graham Gund design
their next municipal building). And when the rest of the taxpayers
complain about the fallout they get to pass the buck to the city or
It’s now up to the Senate to expose the bill for what it is - as one
lawmaker called it “a cynical end-run” around Prop. 2˝.
And it would be nice if Gov. Deval Patrick, who ran on a platform that
promised property tax relief, would acknowledge that this bill provides
no such thing.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
An Eagle-Tribune editorial
Senate must defeat override end run
The Massachusetts Senate must serve as the last line of defense against
the latest attempt to undermine Proposition 2˝. Democratic Gov. Deval
Patrick cannot be counted on to veto such measures as previous
Republican governors had promised.
The House last week advanced the effort to buy off the primary
opposition to Proposition 2˝ overrides in any community — senior
citizens. Lawmakers passed 111-34 a bill that would allow cities and
towns to offer moderate-income senior citizens abatements that would
offset the tax increases imposed by the passage of overrides. Those 65
and older with incomes of less than $60,000 whose property taxes exceed
10 percent of their income would qualify.
But don't expect those advocating for overrides to spell out the fine
print for seniors. Nor that the abatements can be suspended after a
year, sending seniors' taxes up along with those of everyone else. The
message will be only that seniors will be exempt and don't need to vote
against spending plans.
Since its passage in 1980, Proposition 2˝ has safeguarded the interests
of taxpayers against those in municipal government who cannot control
their spending habits. The measure already permits communities to raise
their taxes as much as they'd like — all they have to do is convince
voters of the merits of their plans.
But that's too high a hurdle for the backers of this cynical bill, who
sell it as a way out of communities' "fiscal crises" while "protecting"
seniors. It offers no real protection at all.
The bill now advances to the Senate, where it should get the rejection
it so richly deserves.
The MetroWest Daily News
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
A MetroWest Daily News editorial
The wrong solution for tax overrides
On the surface, the legislation passed by the state House last week
sounds like a reasonable proposition: Since everyone knows property tax
hikes place a special burden on needy senior citizens living on a fixed
income, why not allow communities to exempt them from tax hikes stemming
from Proposition 2˝ overrides?
That's the argument made by Rep. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, the lead sponsor
of the bill. Under the proposal, which the House approved on a lopsided
111-34 vote, communities could offer the override exemption to
homeowners over age 65 who earn less than $60,000 in annual income.
But below the surface lurk problems. First, for every dollar of an
override's cost kept off the tax bill of an eligible senior, a dollar
will be added to the bills of those under 65. Since there's no
means-tested property tax breaks for them, the tax hikes will hit harder
on some who are equally deserving of our sympathy: Young families barely
getting by, people who have lost jobs or lost wage-earners, who are
having a hard enough time coping with rising energy, mortgage and health
care costs. Is that fair?
There's also the impact the exemption would have on tax override ballot
politics. Exempting seniors would blunt the opposition to overrides,
especially those benefiting schools. Cynics argue that's the whole point
of Balser's bill. Realists note that whatever the motivation, its effect
would be to make it easier to get overrides approved.
That is going in the wrong direction. An override to build a new school
or purchase a strategic property is an appropriate community investment
decision. But more and more cities and towns are having to turn to
operating overrides because they are desperate for revenue to sustain
That desperation should be laid at the doorstep of the Massachusetts
Legislature, which has refused to return local aid to 2002 levels, let
alone provide the amount of state aid that is required in 2008. The
Legislature has also refused to act on proposals from Gov. Deval Patrick
that would open up new revenue options for municipalities and close a
loophole that allows telecommunications providers to avoid paying
millions in property taxes.
Property taxes are regressive, unfair and already far too high. Patrick
won an electoral mandate to control property tax hikes, pointedly saying
that reducing local taxes, not state taxes, was his priority. The
Legislature, however, has played an old game, taking credit for keeping
the sales and income tax rates low while taking no responsibility for
the property taxes that must grow to make up the shortfall in local aid.
The Senate should reject this attempt to duck the real issue. We don't
need the Legislature to make tax overrides easier to pass. We need it to
make overrides less necessary.
NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes
only. For more information go to: