By a narrow margin of six votes, Pepperell voters defeated a Proposition 2 and 1/2 override on Monday. Without the $1.1M, town officials say significant cuts will now be needed.
Pepperell isn't the only town faced with expenditures that are outdistancing revenues. The answer to the problem isn't taxing property owners into the ground but demanding a larger cut of state revenues.
Massachusetts is a liberal state. Among the topics about which the commonwealth is most liberal are taxing and spending.
And, politicians excel at making promises, especially when they are up for election. The phrases "increasing local aid" and "supporting education" are two of the most oft heard vows. Yet once they are comfortably ensconced in their taxpayer-funded roles, the promises seem easily forgotten.
State funding for cities and towns and for education has not kept pace. While state officials clearly expect local taxpayers to cover the gaps, wages are stagnant while taxes and prices continue to rise.
It's time for our liberal-spending state to step up.
Consider the following:
1. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center has estimated a 45 percent decrease in unrestricted general government aid since 2001 (when adjusted for inflation).
2. In a May 28 letter to the House-Senate conference committee outlining municipal priorities for the fiscal 2015 state budget, Massachusetts Municipal Association executive director Geoffrey C. Beckwith made the following points --
* Under Chapter 70 school aid as proposed, "a significant majority of school districts would only receive minimum aid, which ... is not adequate to allow cities and towns to maintain existing school programming. Most minimum aid communities will need to cut current education services or divert more funds from the municipal side of the budget..."
* "We urge you to increase funding for transportation reimbursements to regional school districts. ... The current fiscal 2014 appropriation of $51.5 million is nearly $7 million below fiscal 2008 levels and is still far below full funding. Decades ago, the state promised 100 percent reimbursement as an incentive for towns and cities to regionalize, and the underfunding of this account has presented serious budget challenges for these districts, taking valuable dollars from the classroom...
* In fiscal 2008, payments in lieu of taxes for state-owned land in cities and towns was set at $28.3M. Gov. Patrick proposed to cut the program to $26.3M in fiscal 2015, a reduction of $500,000 below the current level.
* In recent years, the state's match for the Community Preservation Act has been significantly underfunded, falling from 100 percent to 26 percent in fiscal 2013. The CPA has been accepted by 155 cities and towns that are relying on the state's promise of matching funds.
On every front the state is reneging on its obligations. It's common to hear a politician say that funding is being increased by a certain amount, say 5 percent, but that's of little help if 50 percent has already been taken away.
We recognize the multitude of causes to which state officials would like to direct tax dollars but the heart of this commonwealth is its cities and towns and the people therein.
All of our elected officials need to remember the promises they made time and time again. Increase local aid and adequately fund education.
Traveling around the world on our dime to attract foreign business investment in Massachusetts will have little success if municipalities are struggling and broke.