40 Years Later – Proposition 2½ Is Under Assault, Again


by Chip Ford
Executive Director of
Citizens for Limited Taxation

MASSACHUSETTS – This November taxpayers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Proposition 2½. Citizens for Limited Taxation’s (CLT) ballot question was adopted by the voters in 1980 after a furious campaign to defeat it by self-serving interests vested in ever-increasing property and vehicle excise taxes.

From its inception Proposition 2½ was detested by those never satisfied that they’ve extracted enough from taxpayers. For decades CLT has managed to fend off numerous attacks time and again. Those assaults were usually clear, direct, and obvious.

Not anymore. Now they are stealthy, typically buried in some obscure language within an unrelated “must pass” major bill. A recent example was the “Community Benefit Districts” in 2018, stashed deep within the massive Economic Development bill. It would have created a whole new level of government — neighborhood districts — each with its own power to tax property above and beyond the limitations on municipalities imposed by Prop 2½. CLT managed to kill that sneak attack just moments before the Economic Development Law was passed.

We weren’t as successful last year with another end-run, this one snuck into the $1.5 billion Education Funding Reform Law to “analyze the impact” and “mitigate the constraints” of Prop 2½.

This year’s clandestine attack was secreted in the Senate’s Transportation Bond Bill, which addresses massive state borrowing and spending of over a billion dollars for transportation projects.

Section 5 of S-2813 is titled “Local and Regional Transportation Initiatives.” Its twelve pages of the 61-page bond bill creates a new scheme for circumventing Prop 2½ by providing cities and towns another means of funding municipal transportation costs for a “qualifying transportation project” outside and beyond the restrictions of Proposition 2½.

A qualifying 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 borne by municipalities funded within their budgets by overall municipal revenue, assisted by Chapter 90 funds rightly provided by the state.

If more revenue is thought necessary for any municipal need, Proposition 2½ provides a mechanism: operational overrides and debt exclusions. This has worked well for four decades, with debt exclusions proposed and adopted for a multitude of unbudgeted projects such as: sewer systems, new schools and municipal buildings, purchase of fire trucks and police equipment, snow plows and other municipal equipment, etc.

If this becomes law it will create a slippery slope precedent that can only expand –  municipal government responsibilities 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.

It now sits in the House/Senate Transportation Bond Bill conference committee comprised of six members. The House’s bill and the Senate’s have little in common.  Whatever is finally agreed to and reported out cannot be amended. It will be quickly passed with a rubber-stamp vote, whisked to the governor for his signature, and will become law. If it is to be stopped, that must happen now, in the conference committee.

The nearby chart lists the members of the Committee; please contact them to tell them you don’t want Section 5 included in the final bill (S-2813), as it’s an end run around Proposition 2 1/2 and will increase taxes.

Transportation Conference Committee Members
Rep. William Straus (D)

Rep. Mark Cusack (D)

Rep. Norman Orrall (R)

Sen. Joseph Boncore (D)

Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D)

Sen. Dean Tran (R)

For more information or to make a contribution to keep CLT fighting for you, visit our website at ♦

Chip Ford is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation: 46 years as ‘The Voice of Massachusetts Taxpayers.’

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