CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

CLT UPDATE
Monday, September 19, 2005

Can they stop just the lying, please?


Communities around the state are relying more heavily on property taxes to fund basic services, according to the report by the Municipal Finance Task Force, a group of representatives from the private and public sectors and academia.

"This is not only not healthy but it's not sustainable, and something will have to give," said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a task force member.

In 1990, property taxes represented 48 percent of total municipal revenues; in 2004, the percentage jumped to 53 percent, according to the task force, which conducted a comprehensive analysis of trends in municipal finance over the past 25 years....

The state's Proposition 2 tax-limiting law is supposed to rein in tax increases. But in many communities, residents have approved overrides of the law so more money can be raised. Also, many say that with rising home values, the burden of property taxes has shifted toward homeowners, rather than businesses.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said the tax increases would be even greater if it weren't for the law.

She said that when her group pushed for the law, it envisioned communities overriding the tax limits only for unexpected costs such as court settlements.

"It was unthinkable that people would be passing overrides for operating budgets to pay salaries," Anderson said.

Local officials said the high cost of providing health insurance coverage for current and retired town employees is the biggest problem. A recent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report found that municipal health insurance premiums have increased by more than 60 percent since 2001....

Local officials can do little to curb healthcare costs because insurance is negotiated as part of union collective bargaining agreements.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Weston is tops in state for property-tax increases


With a federal deadline fast approaching, liberal state lawmakers and social services advocates are gearing up for a fight this week over efforts by Governor Mitt Romney and a House panel to dramatically increase the number of welfare recipients who have to work ...

Some 46,300 families are on welfare in Massachusetts, which has work requirements and time limits for benefits that are among the most lenient in the nation. About 11,600 recipients are required to work....

"The principle of encouraging work with welfare is so clearly established that Massachusetts shouldn't run from it, but should embrace it," Romney said. "The rest of the nation embraced welfare reform, including work, some years ago. It's time for us to do the same thing."

But in an interview with the Globe last week, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said Romney's proposal "cuts [welfare recipients] off at the knees." ...

When the Massachusetts welfare overhaul was signed into law in February 1995, there were about 103,000 families getting $693 million per year in cash assistance. Today, 46,300 families get about $313 million per year.

The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 18, 2005
New fight brewing on welfare overhaul
Liberals oppose Romney job plan


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Can we please have rational policy discussions without the lying, even for once?

How stupid do they think their constituents are? I guess we know the answer without waiting for it:  pretty stupid.

"Local officials can do little to curb healthcare costs because insurance is negotiated as part of union collective bargaining agreements," the Boston Globe reported -- as if these negotiated bargaining agreements are passed down from on high like Moses with his Commandments.  Just who is doing the negotiating?

Who is agreeing with the contracts, making them into law -- the Holy Ghost?!?

And we're going to simply ignore the federal mandate for welfare reform, and suffer no consequences? That's not what they were arguing about federal highway funds if we didn't adopt a mandatory seat belt law only a few years back, as the feds "encouraged," as with so many other federal "mandates."

"'Presently we are spending state money on welfare, and we are getting money from the federal government,'" the Boston Globe reported State Rep. Cynthia Creem declared. "'We can do this without spending any more money. We just have to make sure that some 14,000 people who are exempt now are funded through the state.'"

Uh, just how do we state taxpayers do that "without spending any more money"?

Can we all just approach these major policy issues using taxpayer dollars for once with truthfulness, not with the usual deceptions? Is this too much to ask? We're continually lectured that "we're all in this together." Must it always be winning-at-any-cost including integrity, or what passes for it these days?

Can't we have for once at least an honest discussion?

Chip Ford


The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Weston is tops in state for property-tax increases
By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts, Globe Correspondent


Residents in Boston's western suburbs have been saddled with some of the biggest property tax bill increases in the state in the past few years, and there's no relief in sight, analysts say.

From fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2005, average tax bills rose more than $1,000 overall in 25 out of the 34 communities for which data were available. The average increase statewide was $910.

Nine communities saw increases of more than $2,000. And affluent Weston had the highest dollar increase in the state, $3,703, bringing the typical bill in that town to a staggering $11,767, according to data from a recently released study.

The cities and towns saw percentage increases in their tax bills that ranged from 28 percent in Maynard to 66 percent in Southborough.

Communities around the state are relying more heavily on property taxes to fund basic services, according to the report by the Municipal Finance Task Force, a group of representatives from the private and public sectors and academia.

"This is not only not healthy but it's not sustainable, and something will have to give," said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a task force member.

In 1990, property taxes represented 48 percent of total municipal revenues; in 2004, the percentage jumped to 53 percent, according to the task force, which conducted a comprehensive analysis of trends in municipal finance over the past 25 years.

With rising expenses, state aid stalled, and population on the rise, communities have also been forced to increase fees and cut services, experts said.

"The report underscores the fact that local communities are facing a long-term fiscal squeeze. The problem is getting worse and gets more difficult over time," Widmer said.

The state's Proposition 2 tax-limiting law is supposed to rein in tax increases. But in many communities, residents have approved overrides of the law so more money can be raised. Also, many say that with rising home values, the burden of property taxes has shifted toward homeowners, rather than businesses.

Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, said the tax increases would be even greater if it weren't for the law.

She said that when her group pushed for the law, it envisioned communities overriding the tax limits only for unexpected costs such as court settlements.

"It was unthinkable that people would be passing overrides for operating budgets to pay salaries," Anderson said.

Local officials said the high cost of providing health insurance coverage for current and retired town employees is the biggest problem. A recent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report found that municipal health insurance premiums have increased by more than 60 percent since 2001.

"Health insurance is a huge budget-buster," said Donna VanderClock, Weston's acting town manager.

Local officials can do little to curb healthcare costs because insurance is negotiated as part of union collective bargaining agreements. VanderClock said there is state legislation pending that would allow health insurance to be negotiated outside the union contracts, which would give cities and towns more control.

David Lunny, chairman of the Upton Board of Selectmen, where the average bill rose from $2,498 in 2000 to $4,119 in 2005, said strong population growth in town forced higher taxes to pay for additional services.

He said the board increased nonunion employee contributions to health insurance from 10 percent to 25 percent over the next three years and wants the unions to go along with a similar increase.

The report stated that local government has been working hard to control costs and is not to blame for the rising cost of services and rising taxes.

Since 1981, per capita annual growth for municipal budgets has averaged only 1.1 percent after adjusting for inflation. The report also found that Massachusetts communities have cut workers more steeply than municipalities in any other state.

John P. Hamill, chairman of Sovereign Bank New England and the leader of the task force, said the current trend will only force cities and towns to make further cuts in services -- and residents will lose faith in local government.

"Town by town, we're seeing a growing discontent among citizens because they see their taxes going up but services going down," Hamill said.

The largest hikes in the western suburbs tended to come in the most affluent communities where bills were already high in 2000.

The report didn't focus on percentage increases in bills or examine the relationship between the bills and the ability of the people in the community to pay them.

The report does lay out a series of recommendations.

They include:

l  Adopting a policy that guarantees that a fixed percentage of state taxes will flow to to cities and towns each year;

l  Revamping the formula that determines how much state aid each community receives;

l  Directing all money raised through the state lottery to communities;

l  Reviewing and revising the formula for state education aid to communities;

l  Granting communities greater flexibility to increase revenue -- through meal taxes, parking excise taxes, rental car surcharges, and other means;

l  Changing the formula used to calculate motor vehicle excise tax;

l  Addressing rising healthcare costs.

Return to top


The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 18, 2005

New fight brewing on welfare overhaul
Liberals oppose Romney job plan
By Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff


With a federal deadline fast approaching, liberal state lawmakers and social services advocates are gearing up for a fight this week over efforts by Governor Mitt Romney and a House panel to dramatically increase the number of welfare recipients who have to work, including thousands of disabled people, mothers with young children, and women in the last stage of pregnancy.

Some 46,300 families are on welfare in Massachusetts, which has work requirements and time limits for benefits that are among the most lenient in the nation. About 11,600 recipients are required to work.

Romney's plan would roughly double that number, eliminating exemptions for pregnant women in the third trimester, mothers with children between 1 and 2 years old, and about 5,600 people who are considered disabled under state standards but not under federal ones. The House Ways and Means Committee cleared a plan last week that also would force many more recipients to work, though not as many as Romney's plan would.

Romney said Friday that "denying people the opportunity and obligation to work is shortsighted."

"The principle of encouraging work with welfare is so clearly established that Massachusetts shouldn't run from it, but should embrace it," Romney said. "The rest of the nation embraced welfare reform, including work, some years ago. It's time for us to do the same thing."

But in an interview with the Globe last week, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi said Romney's proposal "cuts [welfare recipients] off at the knees."

In 1995, when the Bay State shifted to a welfare system requiring some recipients to work, it was a pioneer. But a year later Congress overhauled the federal welfare law, and Massachusetts has been operating under a waiver from federal rules since then. That waiver expires at the end of this month, forcing Beacon Hill to act.

John Wagner, the commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, said Romney's plan represents a change in attitude that will help many people with disabilities. He argued that the state is not helping recipients by exempting them from work requirements, since those that rely solely on benefits are virtually guaranteed to live in poverty. Annual welfare benefits total less than $8,000 for a family of three.

Like Romney's plan, the House version would impose work requirements on mothers with children between 1 and 2 and for pregnant women in the third trimester. But unlike Romney's plan, which would exempt only those people whom the federal government considers to be severely disabled, the House plan would give state caseworkers some discretion in determining who is able to work, and how much.

Both the Romney proposal and the House plan would impose a five-year lifetime limit for receiving benefits. Under current law, families only can receive benefits for two years in any five-year period.

"I don't think this is a soft cushion for them," DiMasi said of the House plan. "It's basically giving them the tools they need so they can create a better life and be better prepared for independence."

Liberal Democrats, who are exerting greater influence in the House since the departure of former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran, will try to amend the bill to preserve at least some of the current exemptions. Representative Robert A. DeLeo, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said Friday that he plans to meet with some of the panel's leading liberals tomorrow, and he predicted that if the bill is changed it will move in the direction of the status quo, not Romney's plan.

Representative Marie St. Fleur, a Dorchester Democrat who serves on the committee, said she is a strong supporter of requiring welfare recipients to work, and she likes the idea of a five-year time limit on benefits as long as there is a hardship exemption. But St. Fleur is opposed to forcing all women in their last stage of pregnancy to work.

"I have three kids, and I've worked to the very day that I've had to give birth," she said. "But I've had access to quality healthcare. I have plenty of assistance. I have a husband, I have support."

St. Fleur also questioned whether welfare caseworkers are qualified to determine which recipients are too disabled to work. Under the current system, the University of Massachusetts Disabled Evaluation Services sets the state standard.

Senate President Robert E. Travaglini also is pledging to act quickly on a welfare bill. Senator Cynthia S. Creem of Newton, the author of a plan that would preserve the current exemptions, predicted that her approach would prevail in the Senate.

Romney says the changes he is proposing are necessary to put Massachusetts in compliance with stricter federal law. The Republican governor, who is mulling a run for president, also might benefit politically from pushing tougher rules, even if he loses in the Legislature.

But two-dozen states have avoided some federal work requirements and time limits by setting up separate state-funded programs to provide cash assistance to families who would not qualify under federal rules. Under Creem's proposal, Massachusetts would do the same thing.

"Presently we are spending state money on welfare, and we are getting money from the federal government," Creem said. "We can do this without spending any more money. We just have to make sure that some 14,000 people who are exempt now are funded through the state."

Jack Tweedie, a welfare specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures, confirmed that states following Creem's approach have not had to spend additional state dollars.

When the Massachusetts welfare overhaul was signed into law in February 1995, there were about 103,000 families getting $693 million per year in cash assistance. Today, 46,300 families get about $313 million per year.

Return to top


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: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page