The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, May 9, 2002
Blumer drops Prop 2½ proposal
By Michael Kunzelman
BOSTON - A MetroWest legislator yesterday withdrew a proposal
that critics say would gut the Proposition 2½ limit on property tax increases.
Last week, state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, filed a
proposed amendment to the state budget aimed at giving towns and cities more flexibility in setting property tax rates.
Yesterday, however, Blumer withdrew the amendment and
substituted it with a plan to create a blue-ribbon commission charged with studying Proposition
"It's 20 years old," she said of Proposition 2½, which
voters passed in 1980. "We've never taken a good look at it."
Proposition 2½ requires voters to approve any property
tax hike greater than 2.5 percent.
Blumer's amendment, however, would have tied the limit on
property taxes to the price index for state and local government services. Blumer said the price index is less than 1
percent greater than the 2.5 percent limit.
"Prop 2½ is an artificial limit," she said. "We need a
benchmark that is more realistic. This (price index) is more realistic because it accounts for the real costs of services in
Blumer's proposed commission would include representatives
of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association [sic - Foundation], the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the
School Committees Association and the two chairmen of the Legislature's Taxation
Committee. The commission would be required to issue a report on Proposition
2½ by December 2003.
Blumer said her amendment was little more than a "placeholder."
"We had very little time to prepare it," she said.
Critics said it would have gutted the voter-approved
Proposition 2½ and could send property tax rates soaring.
"This would create a big bump in people's property taxes,"
said Chip Faulkner, associate director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.
"How could she do that? How could she do that to the elderly
who are living on fixed incomes?" Faulkner said he hadn't heard of the price index, or "government services index,"
before he saw it in Blumer's amendment.
"I just think she is way out in left field on this," he
added. "We hope it's just a wacky idea, and it will be summarily rejected."
Duncan Fuller, a Framingham resident who once worked for the Free the Pike coalition,
read a Boston Herald report about Blumer's amendment and called Faulkner to express his
Fuller, a former Republican who is now unenrolled, said he
is so upset about the proposal that he is considering running against Blumer as a write-in candidate.
"Proposition 2½ is a good law," he said. "By gutting it,
that's a backdoor way for Beacon Hill lawmakers to undo the will of the voters and raise more taxes."
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The Boston Herald
Thursday, May 9, 2002
A Boston Herald editorial
Proposition 2½ must stay
Proposition 2½ has been an important support for Massachusetts' prosperity. The
Legislature would be foolish to abolish this wonderfully effective enforcement of local budget
This 1980 voter-enacted law limits the growth in the
property tax revenue of a city or town in any year to 2½ percent over the previous year's revenue plus whatever taxes
may be yielded by new construction. To exceed this limit, approval by voters is needed.
The hard-fought battle in Newton last month, where voters
approved the first override in the city's history by a narrow margin (overrides were defeated in 1983 and 1990), seems to
have gotten on the nerves of some politicians. Rep. Deborah Bloomer (D-Framingham) is
sponsoring an amendment to do away with the required voter approval.
The great virtue of Proposition 2½ is that it forces
spenders to make a good case. And spenders have the advantage, especially at the local level. Public employee unions may
dominate boards of aldermen through promises of support or opposition on Election Day;
town employees sometimes can control town meetings just by showing up if other citizens are
not vigilant. And public employees always want to spend more.
Every resident wants good schools and plowed roads; few
citizens can say whether more assistant principals should be hired or if more snowplows are needed. Proposition
2½ forces those who draw up budgets at least to try to choose wisely among priorities.
There is ample evidence that voters are not starving
essential municipal services. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found that in Fiscal Year 2000, Prop
2½ override efforts increased for the first time in 10 years - to all of
39. In 33 communities the overrides passed, a success rate of 85 percent.
And cities and towns are generally not at the ends of their
ropes. Each year municipalities note their "excess capacity" - how much more money they can raise in property taxes without
exceeding their limit. In 1996, 260 of the state's 351 cities and towns had a total of $95
million in excess capacity, 1.6 percent of aggregate collections. In 2001, 263 communities
had $248 million in excess capacity, 3.2 percent of collections. In other words, the cushion
doubled in five years.
Granted, the economy of 2002 is weaker than it was last
year, but the situation of each city and town is different. City councils, boards of aldermen, town meetings and voters are
quite capable of plotting their own courses carrying Proposition 2½ as helpful ballast.
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The Telegram & Gazette
Thursday, May 9, 2002
Propping up 2½
The Statehouse rumors about the potential gutting of
Proposition 2½ became reality Tuesday when it was learned that state Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, has filed a
budget amendment that would "free" Massachusetts communities from the tax-limiting constraints of
the 22-year-old initiative.
What's more, Ms. Blumer's brainstorm would allow cities and
towns to hike such taxes as they wish without voters' approval.
If House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran has an ounce of
political savvy, he'll put his omnipotence to good use for once and squelch any legislative debate on this dubious
We've pointed out the proven benefits of Proposition
2½ many times before: It restrains the easy lure of tax hikes to fund municipal budgets; offers the flexibility of judiciously
overriding its limits to pay for special outlays and large projects; and gives residents a greater say -- and
protection -- over how their tax dollars are spent locally.
Similar calls to "adjust" Proposition 2½ out of existence
occurred when the Massachusetts Miracle turned mirage in the late 1980s.
But Proposition 2½ -- itself an outgrowth of a state
financial crisis -- weathered the Dukakis-era meltdown, just as it will survive this downturn.
As the granddaddy of voter-approved ballot initiatives,
Proposition 2½ also carries some symbolic value. Its long-term success demonstrates the power of the people as the
Legislature thumbs its nose at the income-tax rollback approved at the polls in 2000 and the
Clean Elections Law passed by voters in 1998.
It's obvious that the state's fiscal 2003 budget will
produce painful cutbacks sure to be felt in all cities and towns. But tossing Proposition
2½ overboard to feed the tax monster would be Beacon Hill cravenness at its worst.
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