and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October 2004 #3

Trick-or-treat time once again for the Legislature
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 22, 2004

So where were your "representatives" this month when the Legislature voted to make it easier to raise your property taxes?

Maybe they were debating a Republican opponent, arguing that they had to "freeze" the voter-passed income tax rollback in order to prevent higher property taxes.

If you had asked them about S 2221, which was passed on Oct. 7, in an "informal" session, with no debate and no roll call, they would probably have said, "What bill?" Nice to know they're paying attention.

Or they might now say they supported S 2221 because it prevents taxpayer dollars from being spent to influence a Prop 2 override. 

Well, you should know that using public resources on ballot questions has been against the law for 26 years. The real reason they passed S 2221 was to exclude cities and towns from having to obey this existing law, allowing them to send pro-override propaganda to their constituents at your expense.

The Legislature hasn't been in formal session since July. This makes it nice for incumbent legislators, who can spend all their time re-running for their seats, while challengers have to campaign after work.

But we still might be grateful for the incumbents' absence from Beacon Hill if it meant that at least nothing bad happened while they were spending time "in the district." This is not, however, how it works.

Governor Romney's staff sent me an e-mail last week with the new bill attached and this message: "It expressly provides that no public resources may be used to influence ... the vote of any local ballot questions. But then it goes on to add a new section authorizing cities and towns to provide voter information on local ballot questions..."

Good catch, Governor's staff!

The only thing missing from the present law is a penalty for people who break it, like the school committees that allow teachers to send pro-override messages home with the children. This new bill says that lawbreakers "shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both."

Not MORE than ten thousand dollars? With no minimum? So, anyone who breaks the law can be fined fifty cents? Let me assure you that there would be no ten-thousand-dollar fines, and no imprisonment for those who ignore the law.

The rest of the bill excludes city and town government from the present law by allowing taxpayer-funded "voter information," provided by proponents of the override, to be sent to all voters. Of course, opponents can send information too but the city or town solicitor gets to decide who, if anyone, is a viable opponent and allowed to participate.

So in summary: If your city or town wants to raise your property taxes, it can put a question on your local ballot and send a booklet to your home, at your expense, to tell you that a "no" vote would "devastate" education or whatever. Of course, your kids can still bring home the teacher union propaganda in their knapsacks, but the person responsible for sending it will be fined fifty cents.

The bill's sponsors are Sen. Pamela Resor, D-Acton; Rep. James Eldridge, D-Acton and Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord. Though Eldridge is new, the two women incumbents first voted to freeze the income tax rollback, then filed this bill to encourage property tax hikes.

Many Democrats whose districts voted for the income tax rollback insist that they, in fact, support it, too but not right now. My own state representative, Doug Petersen, D-Marblehead, told the League of Women Voters that "current legislation dictates that as our economy recovers, our income tax will automatically decrease".

He neglects to mention that this "current legislation" automatically decreases the income tax rate in the year 2014. If we repeat the past, 2014 will be the year that the commonwealth will have another "fiscal crisis" brought on by reckless spending after an economic recovery. I confidently predict an income tax hike at that time.

Petersen and other Democratic incumbents are defending themselves from the accusation that they don't respect the voters by insisting that an income tax rollback will cut local aid, thereby leading to a deplorable increase in local property taxes.

But the fact is, there is no automatic connection between an income tax rate cut and property tax hikes. No matter what the income tax rate, property taxes can only increase above the amount allowed by Proposition 2 if local voters agree to an override. S 2221 would stack the deck for override supporters.

At my request, the Romney administration vetoed it. Lt. Governor Kerry Healey did the honors for Gov. Romney. The Democratic leadership cannot override the veto unless it brings the Legislature back into formal session for a roll-call vote.

This could happen after the election, unless voters are finally fed up enough to elect themselves some real representatives who are committed to systemic reform and respect for voter initiatives like Proposition 2 and the income tax rollback.

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