Monday, October 22, 2007

More about proposed Chapter 40T (S-146)

Barbara Anderson's CLT Commentary

We want to thank those activists who called their legislators in June to oppose new legislation (S-146) creating Chapter 40T development zones.

We had opposed an earlier version of this last year, which had no public hearing, but was attached to the “economic stimulus bill” during floor debate. Hating as we do the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain, we were concerned about language that allowed the use of eminent domain by the governing boards of these zones. The bill with the new districts attached passed but that section was vetoed by Governor Romney (oh how we took those vetoes for granted before we lost our friendly governors); his veto was overridden by the House but not the Senate.

This year there was a public hearing, which we didn’t know about in time to attend: We have since been listening to both sides. We allied with opponents until we had time to thoroughly analyze the twenty-nine (29) pages of legislation, which Chip Ford and I have been doing since.

The leading proponent came to our office to meet with us, assuring us that the eminent domain language had been removed from the legislation. Since we fear that some eminent domain powers could be “understood” as a legal given in this kind of legislation, we asked that specific language be included stating that eminent domain would be prohibited to the development district and unavailable to local governments for the district.

We were told there could be a floor amendment, but my calls to the senate sponsor, Senator Dick Moore (D-Uxbridge), have not been returned. So CLT remains opposed. We doubt that we will get a guarantee that this will happen before it would be too late to fight the bill.

The best argument for the bill is that instead of local property taxpayers funding the infrastructure improvements for the new district, they’ll be paid for by the people in the development who choose to purchase property there and pay the extra district taxes.

However, this is the most complicated piece of legislation we have ever attempted to dissect and analyze. Proposition 2˝, which cut and limited property taxes, cut the auto excise, created a rental deduction, repealed two unfunded mandates, forbade new unfunded mandates, and created two new state agencies to oversee property taxation and mandates, was only five pages single-spaced.

As we struggle to understand all the implications of this 29-page bill, we wonder how “let the buyer beware” can apply to something so lengthy and difficult to understand. Shirley Kressel, a Boston activist who is one of the chief opponents of the bill, likens it to the sub-prime interest rate mortgages problem, which dealt with issues far easier than a whole new -- for Massachusetts -- kind of municipal finance. Even if these development districts work well in other states, we fear in Massachusetts the law of unintended consequences will inevitably kick in.

To be fair: on its face, the bill can make sense, and rather than explain it to you we will send you to the website put together by its proponents.


One good argument seemed to be that municipalities don’t want to impact their bond ratings with the bonding necessary for infrastructure improvements. But when we checked, we found that the Massachusetts Municipal Association testified in opposition to this bill.

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We share these concerns, along with our original concerns that were triggered by the eminent domain language in the original bill that someone tried to get through without a public hearing. Perhaps we are too cynical. This may simply be something new to us that is fairly common in other places. If after viewing the advocate's website you have an opinion, please let us know. We have already checked out interesting questions from CLT activists, and would also like to hear from CLT members who are developers themselves. Thanks again to those who helped us stop this legislation until we could all become better informed.

Barbara Anderson


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