and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June #2

Beware those who control the purse strings
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's amazing that the series finale of "The Sopranos" could have been so poorly conceived, so insulting to its viewers, without any government involvement at all.

Usually when I am yelling insults at the TV set, some politician is speaking. Like last week, when Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was complaining that none of the immigration "reform" bill opponents had a better plan - ignoring, as do all proponents, the urgings and proposed amendments to "just enforce existing immigration laws" or, "first, secure the borders!"

Sometimes I am hissing at special-interest groups, like the striking Quincy teachers union, and wondering why teachers who are violating the law against strikes by public employees aren't in jail. Poor babies, they don't want to pay more than 10 percent of their health-insurance premiums. My better plan in this case: Fire them, and see how they like private-sector health insurance.

Yes, usually it's the public sector that is insulting our intelligence and breaking its real or implied commitments.

Take the story in last week's Boston Herald, in which I am quoted saying that I don't mind the MBTA being forced to build railroad crossings for critters -- including a mama duck and her ducklings -- to get safely across the tracks. Though estimated to cost $1.15 million, the crossings were promised by the T to the state as a condition for building the new Greenbush Line through federally-protected wetlands. If the pledge had not been made, the line may have not have been built, saving taxpayers over $200 million.

Enough already with government entities making and breaking manipulative promises of convenience. Though bravo to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, for insisting that the crossings now be built.

Speaking of environmental concerns: Many citizens supported the passage of the state Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 2000, and many others have voted for a local CPA with its property tax increase, in order to, we all were told, achieve "open space/recreation, historic preservation, and affordable housing."

I'm for open space and once voted for a specific Prop 2 debt exclusion so that Marblehead could buy a particular piece of land. I figured that, if sold to a developer, the usual unaffordable (to people like me, at least) McMansions would be built. And their owners, who apparently can afford them, would then be able to afford higher taxes and might vote for permanent Prop 2 overrides, which make all our housing less affordable.

Many taxpayers struggle with property taxes that, while funding teacher pay raises and superior benefits, cut our own after-tax incomes.

So I have never supported the CPA, which also raises property taxes, but gives the money to unelected local "community preservationists" to propose how it will be spent.

Get this: In some places, the open space/recreation money is being offered for replacing grass and woodland with artificial turf!

According to an opinion piece in the May 14 issue of Lawyer's Weekly by Newton attorney Guive Merfendereski, some activists are fighting back and lawsuits are pending, one against a Newton proposal for "a project that would convert five acres of existing natural grass playing fields in a wetland area into artificial turf made of plastic and toxic granulates of used tires." Fortunately, "an enlightened group of aldermen decide to hold back on CPA appropriation."

My favorite is this one: "In Concord, a group of citizens has organized to question the proposed demolition of acres of the historic Walden Woods for artificial turf fields."

Historic! Walden Woods! Can you hear the usually mild-mannered Henry David Thoreau yelling from his grave?

Fortunately the original CPA legislation does not allow this interpretation of "open space/recreation" and the lawsuits are expected to be won.

But not to worry, all you CPA supporters, the Legislature's Committee on Community Development and Small Business has taken over the issue. It held a hearing this week on Senate Bill 137, filed by Senate Revenue chairman Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, that would change the original CPA legislation to allow Walden Pond to be paved over for an athletic field if the Concord CPA Commission likes the idea.

You will be happy to know, however, that under the new bill, "'Recreational use' ... shall not include horse or dog racing or the use of land for a stadium, gymnasium or similar structure." Probably can't build a gambling casino there either, though some could reasonably argue that playing the slots is recreation for seniors who can no longer play soccer or, for that matter, wander Walden Woods.

My first recreational trip after I moved to Massachusetts in 1971 was to Walden Pond, then to visit Thoreau's grave. I was both horrified and amused a few years later when taxpayer dollars were spent to build a replica of his cabin at the Walden Pond parking lot (for tourists' convenience -- the actual site requires a walk into the actual woods).

Henry didn't like government much, or taxes spent on things of which he disapproved.

To paraphrase Journey [make Tony's juke box selection here], "Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues; but this column never ends, it goes on, and on, and on . . ."  Black-out!

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.