and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
May 2003 #2

Overrides just another way
for special interests to grab more of your money

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News 
Friday, May 9, 2003

It has been three years since I "seceded" politically from the town of Marblehead, telling myself that life is too short to waste two nights a year of it attending town meeting.

For 25 years I had not only shown up, but spoken up -- to no avail.

Very few people go to town meeting to support limited taxation, sensible prioritization, and concern for people on fixed incomes. People go to get easy money for their own interests at the expense of their neighbors.

It was the special-interest selfishness of town meeting that inspired me to work for the Proposition 2 campaign in 1980. The year after it passed, the Marblehead School Committee, as usual, rejected the recommendation of the Finance Committee and demanded more money than the town could afford. I overheard an elderly person behind me saying, "Thank heavens for Prop 2. They may get the money, but it won't come from me."

Without a townwide voter override, the extra money for the schools would have to be found elsewhere in the budget, instead of being forcibly taken from her Social Security check.

This year it isn't just the elderly who can't afford to pay for overrides. Many people are unemployed, or earning less than before; and there are no automatically assumed pay raises in private industry like there are in the public sector.

Water, sewer and utility bills have gone up. And state taxes increased when the personal exemption was decreased by the Legislature.

None of this discouraged town officials in Marblehead from placing a variety of overrides on the warrant for the town meeting that began Monday night. Among other things, attendees voted overrides for municipal employee pay raises on top of the annual step increases, and repairs on a library roof that they say threatens not only the books, but the lives of employees and patrons. Apparently the threat is not great enough to require regular budget funding, though.

The one service we all use regularly is trash pickup. I tell myself my property taxes pay for this and my share of public safety and public works, not the wasteful school budget. Let the wealthy people who vote for overrides fund the latter.

However, the selectmen's strategy is to stop picking up trash unless the entire operating budget override passes. As someone said, trash collection is not an essential service.

That's what town fathers said in Europe just before the Black Plague.

We're told we will have to find ourselves a private company or get in line at the dump. We'll see. Let Beverly have the birthplace-of-the-Navy thing, and change the sign entering town to "Marblehead -- garbage capital of the world."

I watched on the local access channel just in case, for the first time ever, it looked as if my vote would make a difference; but it was quickly clear that the meeting was again packed with the do-gooders who must prove they "care" by robbing taxpayers.

Still, on Tuesday night I weakened. As I worked in my office, I was half-listening and heard someone from the Board of Health move to restore the money for trash pickup; I called for my partner, Chip Ford, to get the car, and off we went to vote for that amendment.

But it was overwhelmingly defeated by proponents of the other overrides, who need to tell voters, "Raise our pay or eat your trash."

So we came home again.

Our co-worker, Chip Faulkner -- who has always led (and lost) anti-override battles at his own town meeting in Wrentham, then led successful efforts to defeat the override on the ballot -- has a new strategy this year. He is going to boycott the time-waster and hold his first "no on the override" meeting the same night that town meeting votes to support it.

We might as well face the fact that the old, thrifty, Yankee town meeting is dead in most communities; what is left is the joy of spending other people's money.

Thank heavens for Proposition 2; at least we get a chance to say, "No!" at the polls.

One smug young woman, talking about this year's override, stated that people who can't afford the money have a bigger problem handling their finances than town meeting could address.

Isn't that special? I hope Marbleheaders realize that the new override will join the last school override on their next tax bills, creating an average increase of $279 on top of their present bill. If they can't afford that, I suppose they should just leave town, or drop dead.

Meanwhile up on Beacon Hill we must watch a proposal to exclude the local overlay (abatement) account from Proposition 2. Citizens for Limited Taxation and Bill Weld stopped this proposal in the early '90s, when we estimated that it would roughly double the allowed basic property tax increase. But these things never go away, as the voters of Danvers well know.

To Anne Marie Ruotolo and her committee, who really do care about sensible priorities and people on fixed incomes: My personal congratulations on your latest ballot victory.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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