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and their Institutional Memory

CLT Memo to the Senate
Monday, July 13, 2020

S-2813 — Senate Transportation Bond Bill

To:  Members of the State Senate
RE:  S-2813 - Senate Transportation Bond Bill
For more information contact:  Chip Ford, Executive Director

Dear Senator; 

First, The Senate Ways and Means Committee has our appreciation for avoiding "transportation revenue," raising taxes to fund its transportation bond bill.  It was very refreshing to hear, when asked if the $16.9 proposed borrowing is possible without additional revenue, Sen. Boncore's succinct response, "Absolutely."  Living within our means is the hallmark of fiscal responsibility, whether among your constituents in their daily lives or their expectations from those they elect to represent them. 

Our problem with S-2813 is its Section 5, "Local and Regional Transportation Initiatives."  The best that we can determine is its genesis was in the House's original bill, H-4547 (Section 4, "Supplemental Infrastructure Financing for Transportation"), though the connection is a stretch.  Its commonality seems to be only in seeking a means for municipalities to somehow raise more revenue outside the accepted restrictions of Proposition 2½. 

Unfortunately S-2813 was released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee to the full Senate and those attentive among the public only on Friday, without a public hearing, outside input, or advanced warning and apparently is to be brought to a vote of the Senate on Thursday.  In light of this abruptness, this memo of CLT's position will need to suffice. 

Section 5 would allow additional municipal revenue to be generated outside the limitations of Proposition 2½ for "transportation projects." 

A “transportation project” is defined as "a project or program for the planning, design or construction of public or mass transportation transit systems, transit-oriented development, roads, bridges, bikeways, pedestrian pathways or other transportation-related projects." 

Those are costs historically and traditionally incurred by municipalities, properly funded within its budget by overall municipal revenue, assisted by Chapter 90 funds rightly provided by the state. 

If more revenue is necessary for additional transportation projects or any other specific municipal need, Proposition 2½ intentionally provides a mechanism:  operational overrides and debt exclusions.  This mechanism has worked well for going on four decades, with debt exclusions having been proposed and adopted for a multitude of unbudgeted projects such as underground sewer system replacement, schools; public safety and other municipal buildings and their repair; purchases of fire trucks, ambulances, snow plows, and other municipal equipment; purchasing open space, etc. 

Section 5 is redundant and unnecessary; a solution seeking a problem. 

Section 5 seems unrelated and inappropriate within a bond bill, and we wonder why it is included. 

But if it becomes law it will create a concerning precedent that can only expand:  Municipal government services being funded à la carte. 

Consider a future city or town ballot menu:  Police protection, vote yes to raise your taxes; Continuing a Fire Department, vote yes to raise your taxes; Public Works, vote yes to raise your taxes; Schools and Education, vote yes to raise your taxes. 

Operational overrides and debt exclusions are frequently quite divisive among neighbors now, especially between those who can afford it and those who can't; those who will benefit and those who won't.  Does setting this menu-style precedent really represent the direction in which you want to lead municipal governing and civic engagement? 

We hope not. 

Please remove Section 5 from this bill before it can be passed and set that bad precedent.  Section 5 is not necessary.

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Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    (781) 639-9709