CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION  &  GOVERNMENT
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT UPDATE
Thursday, May 9, 2002

Prop 2 saved, for another day!


A MetroWest legislator yesterday withdrew a proposal that critics say would gut the Proposition 2 limit on property tax increases.

The MetroWest Daily News
May 9, 2002
Blumer drops Prop 2 proposal


Proposition 2 has been an important support for Massachusetts' prosperity. The Legislature would be foolish to abolish this wonderfully effective enforcement of local budget discipline.

A Boston Herald editorial
May 9, 2002
Proposition 2 must stay


As the granddaddy of voter-approved ballot initiatives, Proposition 2 also carries some symbolic value. Its long-term success demonstrates the power of the people as the Legislature thumbs its nose at the income-tax rollback approved at the polls in 2000 and the Clean Elections Law passed by voters in 1998.

A Telegram & Gazette editorial
May 9, 2002
Propping up 2


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Those of you who made your calls to your legislators yesterday -- stop for a moment ...

Give yourself a a big pat on the back.

The rest of your (can there really be any?) who left it to "Somebody Else" - stop for a moment as well ...

You owe those who did the simple work of democracy a round of applause -- a big "Thank You!" -- for taking their time and making their effort, for themselves and for every homeowner across Massachusetts, like you!

Our special thanks are extended to CLT member Duncan Fuller, who had the fortitude and timing to announce that he would run as a sticker-candidate against state Rep. Deborah Blumer, the amendment's sponsor, if she went forward with her threat!

Nothing gets a legislator-for-life's attention more than the two-by-four of a challenger to their perceived sinecure.

We at CLT went flat-out yesterday to kill her amendment. Besides my early-morning interview on WBZ Radio, New England Cable News sent a crew here for an interview, and I appeared as a guest on Howie Carr's show on WRKO, while Chip Faulkner worked the phones calling Framingham CLT members, being interviewed by MetroWest reporter Mike Kunzelman, and drafting a memo to the Legislature that we planned to hand deliver to every House member this morning.

On Howie Carr's show, a municipal worker called in to argue that Proposition 2 should and ought to be gutted. His position was that we all expect town services; how would we like it if we called in a fire then no fire truck showed up? "You get what you pay for," he asserted.

I responded: "I dispute your premise; often we don't get what we pay for. In fact, state local aid has almost doubled since 1990, municipal budgets have near-doubled since 1990. If I call in a fire, I would expect two fire trucks to respond!"

An intriguing aspect in Rep. Blumer's amendment was her sudden change to it early yesterday, tying property tax increases to something called "the annual change in the chain-type price index for state and local expenditures." Though nobody we've spoken with has ever heard of this index, tying tax increases to the growth of government hardly seems like an objective criteria and in fact is an incentive for further tax increases.

Rep. Blumer has substituted a new amendment for the one in which she would have gutted Prop. 2. She now proposes to establish a "blue ribbon commission" to study Prop. 2. This commission would be comprised of pro-tax groups which can be expected to recommend changes that would increase the tax burden of homeowners, to rubber-stamp tax increases.

Such a commission would lack any credibility or legitimacy whatsoever without the inclusion of the sponsors of Proposition 2 ... Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Chip Ford


The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, May 9, 2002

Blumer drops Prop 2 proposal
By Michael Kunzelman

BOSTON - A MetroWest legislator yesterday withdrew a proposal that critics say would gut the Proposition 2 limit on property tax increases.

Last week, state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, filed a proposed amendment to the state budget aimed at giving towns and cities more flexibility in setting property tax rates.

Yesterday, however, Blumer withdrew the amendment and substituted it with a plan to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with studying Proposition 2.

"It's 20 years old," she said of Proposition 2, which voters passed in 1980. "We've never taken a good look at it."

Proposition 2 requires voters to approve any property tax hike greater than 2.5 percent.

Blumer's amendment, however, would have tied the limit on property taxes to the price index for state and local government services. Blumer said the price index is less than 1 percent greater than the 2.5 percent limit.

"Prop 2 is an artificial limit," she said. "We need a benchmark that is more realistic. This (price index) is more realistic because it accounts for the real costs of services in the community."

Blumer's proposed commission would include representatives of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association [sic - Foundation], the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the School Committees Association and the two chairmen of the Legislature's Taxation Committee. The commission would be required to issue a report on Proposition 2 by December 2003.

Blumer said her amendment was little more than a "placeholder."

"We had very little time to prepare it," she said.

Critics said it would have gutted the voter-approved Proposition 2 and could send property tax rates soaring.

"This would create a big bump in people's property taxes," said Chip Faulkner, associate director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

"How could she do that? How could she do that to the elderly who are living on fixed incomes?" Faulkner said he hadn't heard of the price index, or "government services index," before he saw it in Blumer's amendment.

"I just think she is way out in left field on this," he added. "We hope it's just a wacky idea, and it will be summarily rejected."

Duncan Fuller, a Framingham resident who once worked for the Free the Pike coalition, read a Boston Herald report about Blumer's amendment and called Faulkner to express his outrage.

Fuller, a former Republican who is now unenrolled, said he is so upset about the proposal that he is considering running against Blumer as a write-in candidate.

"Proposition 2 is a good law," he said. "By gutting it, that's a backdoor way for Beacon Hill lawmakers to undo the will of the voters and raise more taxes."

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The Boston Herald
Thursday, May 9, 2002

A Boston Herald editorial
Proposition 2 must stay

Proposition 2 has been an important support for Massachusetts' prosperity. The Legislature would be foolish to abolish this wonderfully effective enforcement of local budget discipline.

This 1980 voter-enacted law limits the growth in the property tax revenue of a city or town in any year to 2 percent over the previous year's revenue plus whatever taxes may be yielded by new construction. To exceed this limit, approval by voters is needed.

The hard-fought battle in Newton last month, where voters approved the first override in the city's history by a narrow margin (overrides were defeated in 1983 and 1990), seems to have gotten on the nerves of some politicians. Rep. Deborah Bloomer (D-Framingham) is sponsoring an amendment to do away with the required voter approval.

The great virtue of Proposition 2 is that it forces spenders to make a good case. And spenders have the advantage, especially at the local level. Public employee unions may dominate boards of aldermen through promises of support or opposition on Election Day; town employees sometimes can control town meetings just by showing up if other citizens are not vigilant. And public employees always want to spend more.

Every resident wants good schools and plowed roads; few citizens can say whether more assistant principals should be hired or if more snowplows are needed. Proposition 2 forces those who draw up budgets at least to try to choose wisely among priorities.

There is ample evidence that voters are not starving essential municipal services. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found that in Fiscal Year 2000, Prop 2 override efforts increased for the first time in 10 years - to all of 39. In 33 communities the overrides passed, a success rate of 85 percent.

And cities and towns are generally not at the ends of their ropes. Each year municipalities note their "excess capacity" - how much more money they can raise in property taxes without exceeding their limit. In 1996, 260 of the state's 351 cities and towns had a total of $95 million in excess capacity, 1.6 percent of aggregate collections. In 2001, 263 communities had $248 million in excess capacity, 3.2 percent of collections. In other words, the cushion doubled in five years.

Granted, the economy of 2002 is weaker than it was last year, but the situation of each city and town is different. City councils, boards of aldermen, town meetings and voters are quite capable of plotting their own courses carrying Proposition 2 as helpful ballast.

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The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Thursday, May 9, 2002

Editorial:
Propping up 2

The Statehouse rumors about the potential gutting of Proposition 2 became reality Tuesday when it was learned that state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, has filed a budget amendment that would "free" Massachusetts communities from the tax-limiting constraints of the 22-year-old initiative.

What's more, Ms. Blumer's brainstorm would allow cities and towns to hike such taxes as they wish without voters' approval.

If House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran has an ounce of political savvy, he'll put his omnipotence to good use for once and squelch any legislative debate on this dubious amendment.

We've pointed out the proven benefits of Proposition 2 many times before: It restrains the easy lure of tax hikes to fund municipal budgets; offers the flexibility of judiciously overriding its limits to pay for special outlays and large projects; and gives residents a greater say -- and protection -- over how their tax dollars are spent locally.

Similar calls to "adjust" Proposition 2 out of existence occurred when the Massachusetts Miracle turned mirage in the late 1980s.

But Proposition 2 -- itself an outgrowth of a state financial crisis -- weathered the Dukakis-era meltdown, just as it will survive this downturn.

As the granddaddy of voter-approved ballot initiatives, Proposition 2 also carries some symbolic value. Its long-term success demonstrates the power of the people as the Legislature thumbs its nose at the income-tax rollback approved at the polls in 2000 and the Clean Elections Law passed by voters in 1998.

It's obvious that the state's fiscal 2003 budget will produce painful cutbacks sure to be felt in all cities and towns. But tossing Proposition 2 overboard to feed the tax monster would be Beacon Hill cravenness at its worst.

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