Real cost to taxpayers of a Prop. 2½ override

To the editor:

More than three decades ago Massachusetts voters adopted Proposition 2½. It is intended to curb runaway municipal spending and the resulting tax increases. It includes a provision that permits a city or town to vote to override the requirements of Prop 2½ by excluding the cost of a specific budget item, for example: a new school building from the annual comparison of the budget to the "Levy Limit" (tax cap).

Such a provision is reasonable when there is some kind of unanticipated emergency. Any immediate need for money is met by issuing a bond. If an override is voted, the annual cost of repaying the bond over many years will be excluded from the annual check against the levy limit.

It seems that the knee-jerk reaction of local politicians is to ask for a Prop 2½ override whenever a large expenditure is needed. And, to my astonishment, the voters usually go along. I don't think they realize they have loosened the reins on their Select Board, City Council, or mayor.

When the voters reject a Prop 2½ override it is usually taken to mean that the underlying project is rejected, and if, for example, a school building is the issue, those who vote NO hate children. Not so. The town can still fund the project with a bond, payable over many years. However, the annual cost of repaying the bond (which you will pay in any case) would have to be included in each year's budget that must remain below the levy limit and would therefore constrain how much overall taxes could increase.


In summary, if you vote for a Prop 2½ override you do not reduce the cost of the underlyng project. Rather, you are voting to let your taxes go up to fund other municipal expenses that you may not support.

Ed Dartford, Stockbridge