Monday, October 7, 2013

Latest attack on Proposition 2˝

To:  Members of the General Court
October 7, 2013
Re:  Latest attack on Proposition 2˝

Kudos to the Boston Globe for alerting its readers, in its front-page October 5 story, that Rep. Marty Walsh supports restoring compulsory binding arbitration for police and firefighters, which would repeal an essential element of Proposition 2˝. Now he can no longer pretend he isn’t a tool of the unions for which he’s been filing H.B. 2467 for over a decade.

We are grateful that the Public Safety Committee has not taken action on this bill to restore compulsory binding arbitration, and don’t expect it would pass – Prop 2˝ has long been respected by the Legislature and we appreciate this. But just in case Walsh becomes mayor of Boston with that bully pulpit to hurt all our communities, we’re sending this memo to alert younger legislators who weren’t around for the 1980 Prop 2˝ ballot battle.

As you know, CLT put Proposition 2˝ on the ballot in 1980, where it was passed by voters and is still state law after 34 years. Our major concern is not that there will be a direct, obvious, outright assault, like repealing it.

What we have to watch for is a change in some obscure but essential provision that will lead to later arguments for repeal or major change. The last time this happened, in 2010, the Massachusetts Municipal Association tried to exclude abatements from the levy limit, which would have effectively doubled the allowed annual increase in property taxes. Alerted by a friendly assessor, we were able to stop this. We found out later that many members didn’t connect this with Proposition 2˝ and would have welcomed an early heads-up, like this memo.

Compulsory binding arbitration for police and firefighter unions was one of the reasons that Massachusetts property taxes were the highest in the world when we created our ballot question. If the community and the union couldn't agree on a contract, it went to compulsory arbitration, and the decision of the arbiter was final and binding. In practice, we were told by municipal officials, it always favored the union. This drove up costs, which were covered by unlimited property taxes.

If property taxes were to be limited, it was only fair to municipalities to give them some control over their budgets; so Prop 2˝ abolished both compulsory binding arbitration and school board fiscal autonomy, while also forbidding new unfunded state mandates on the cities and towns.

In time there was a change on the police and firefighters issue, also noted in the Globe article, which restored a type of arbitration, but with the requirement that city councils and town meetings approve the decision or send it back to the negotiating table. This seemed fair enough.

But returning to the era of final binding arbitration, with no town meeting or city council approval, would be a major violation of Proposition 2˝, and a guarantee that the next legislative assault will be on the levy limit, as municipal leaders argue that they need higher property taxes to cover the expensive contracts.

The issue has come up during the mayoral election because an arbiter just awarded a 25.4 percent pay hike, over six years, to Boston Police patrol officers. The Boston City Council is expected to balk at this. Walsh's bill would let the raises go through without Council approval. We find this threatening not only to Boston taxpayers, but to us all.

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665