Tax on us

It’s not exactly a full-fledged phenomenon yet but there is a noticeable trend amid the economic angst and anti-tax rhetoric: Voters in Massachusetts communities are choosing to reach deeper into their pockets to fund public construction and renovation projects through overrides and debt exclusions.

The numbers aren’t in yet for comparison and it’s only three-plus months into the fiscal year, but in just the last month about a half-dozen communities have voted yes to rebuild, renovate, or construct new schools. It’s in affluent towns such as Hingham and Duxbury as well as middle-class enclaves such as Fairhaven, where voters this week approved a $24.7 million project to renovate the middle school, with the town picking up 37 percent of the cost.

On the Cape, Chatham voters easily approved their share of a new regional high school, a marked contrast to last year when the proposal to join with Harwich barely squeaked through. Both Eastham and Wellfleet approved overrides to fund their share of Nauset Regional High School and now await Brewster.

Earlier this year, voters in Arlington, Mendon, Scituate, and Norton, among others, voted for multimillion dollar overrides and debt exclusions to renovate their schools. And there are more votes on the horizon with voters in Marshfield, which is facing loss of accreditation at its high school unless it renovates or replaces it, as well as those in Concord and Carlisle being asked to raise their taxes pay to replace their regional high school.

In the last two fiscal years, overrides and debt exclusion votes have been a mixed bag. In fiscal 2011, with 55 override requests put to voters in about two dozen towns, 53 percent of the levy requests were turned down, while in the previous fiscal year, a little less than half were rejected.

What makes the recent override approvals even more remarkable is the state no longer reimburses communities the 80 to 90 percent of school building costs that it once did. The approval process for state aid is far more involved now, and reimbursements are typically 50 percent or less without extenuating circumstances. Even then, rarely does it go above 67 percent.

The recent votes come at a time of continuing depression of home values and with the wobbly economy continuing to take a toll on people’s wallets and psyches. With all the talk about taxpayer revolt and the cacophony of calls for cuts to government budgets at all levels, it’s amazing to see voters willing to buck the tide and opt to reach deeper to pay for things that make a city or town a community. And it’s not just for schools, as some voters have approved funds to renovate high school tracks, libraries, recycling programs, and councils on aging.

Maybe the middle-class tax revolt is a little more nuanced than the black and white rhetoric often heard.

                                                                                                                                                 –JACK SULLIVAN 


Two state senators have backed off their proposal to bring back “happy hours” and reduced priced drinks to help bars and restaurants compete with casinos, asking the conference committee on the casino bill to send their measure to a study committee. Joan Vennochi is understandably flabbergasted as legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick give their blessings to backroom deal-making in the crafting of a final version of the casino bill.

The director of the Chelsea Housing Authority told the Globe last night that he will resign. Earlier in the day, Gov. Deval Patrick called for Michael McLaughlin — as well as the five-member housing board that approved his contract — to step down following the Globe revelation that McLaughlin earns an astounding $360,000 a year.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s state vehicle flipped over and crashed during an early morning ride on I-190, but the Murray escaped with only a cut on his hand and some bruises, the Worcester Telegram reports. The paper has a photo of the totaled Ford Crown Victoria.

CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan reports on an interesting legal twist in the case of former probation commissioner John O’Brien.

The Lowell Sun reports on a bill that would require charter schools to win approval of a local school committee or voter referendum. Currently, charters must pass muster with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Attorney General Martha Coakley both ripped utility companies yesterday over their performance in restoring power to customers following last weekend’s snow storm. Newton Mayor Setti Warren calls for a state investigation. Meanwhile, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court overrules the Department of Public Utilities, overturning a $4.6 million fine imposed on a division of the electric utility Unitil, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Massachusetts House approves a public pension overhaul bill, WBUR reports. Governing magazine reviews newspaper editorials from around the country on collective bargaining and pension reform.

The Bay State steps up aid to returning veterans.


The war between Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua and the Eagle-Tribune goes on. In an editorial endorsing candidates, the newspaper urges voters to reject Lantigua’s bid to stack the city council and school committee with his backers. “The Lantigua candidates are easy to spot. Most of them refuse to answer any questions from the Eagle-Tribune,” the paper says.

WBUR’s Radio Boston asks: Is Boston a second-tier city?

In CommonWealth, Stephen Eide of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau bemoans the lack of turnout in municipal elections.

Selectman Paul Murphy in Rockport proposes an 8 p.m. curfew on future Halloween trick-or-treating, the Gloucester Times reports.


Tom Brokaw and Tom Ashbrook discuss how to recapture the American Dream on WBUR’s On Point. For a broader treatment of the issue, check out CommonWealth’s fall issue.

In a column in the Salem News, Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, applauds the state’s flat tax and recommends it to the nation.

The Associated Press provides an update of the Occupy Wall Street Movement in selected states. Jeff Greene, last seen running unsuccessfully for a Florida Senate seat, says in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column that the Occupy movement gives policymakers the chance to fix the country’s structural problems before they get worse.

The supercommittee is not moving super quickly, and might not hit its November deadline.


A third woman comes forward with sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain. Cain’s original accuser wants to release a statement but won’t speak publicly because, according to her attorney, “She doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill.” Cain, who previously called the sexual harassment claims a “witch hunt” by the leftist media, now blames campaign staffers for rival Rick Perry; Perry’s camp denies the charge, and points the finger at Mitt Romney.

The Washington Post tries to chart the evolution of Mitt Romney’s views on gay rights, abortion and the environment. David Bernstein combs through a pile of FEC filings and finds most of Romney’s key financial backers from his 2008 campaign deserting him this time around. In a likely sign of things to come, Democratic activists in Nevada rip Romney for saying that the housing market should bottom out on its own, painting him as a modern day Gordon Gekko.

Course correction needed? The GOP is on the wrong side of the Iraq withdrawal with most independents, Democrats, and  43 percent of Republicans favoring the president’s moves in a recent Gallup poll.


The final markdown is near for Filene’s Basement, as the iconic Boston discounter announced it will close its remaining 21 stores in January. NECN also reports the story.

Bank of America may have given up on the idea of a $5 monthly charge for debit card users, but the banking behemoth and other major banks will come after you some other way, the Globe reports.

WBUR reports on a jobs conference called Race Against the Machine, where experts said technology is eliminating higher-skill jobs.

A court gives the green light to a suit against Wells Fargo brought by the state of Illinois, charging that the bank steered minority borrowers into risky mortgages.


Brockton police and state inspectors found violations in a number of school transportation vans, buses, and station wagons, from overcrowding to bald tires, and at least one owner of a private transportation company is facing criminal charges for stuffing 11 students in an eight-person van.

Nearly 80 percent of graduates of the one-year old University of Massachusetts School of Law in Dartmouth passed state bar exams, a marked increase over the school’s performance when it was a private unaccredited school.

College student borrowing hits an all-time high, WBUR reports.

Irene Sege, of Strategies for Children, praises the high test scores of Massachusetts students in a CommonWealth column, but says the lack of proficiency in reading remains a troubling concern.

UMass President Robert Caret was officially sworn in this week and visited Greater Boston to talk about the challenges facing the system in the continuing down economy.

A Somerset teacher’s aide has filed a discrimination complaint and suit against the town and school superintendent, saying she was the victim of retaliation after she complained to the state that the schools did not have the proper restraints policies in place for students.

The Bay State Banner looks at the Boston Public Schools efforts to improve the environment for English language learners after being hit with federal civil rights violations last year.


WBUR’s CommonHealth blog reports on a Rhode Island hospital chief executive’s apology to actor James Woods for the death of his brother.


Massachusetts gets a federal grant that will help state police crack down on speeding near construction sites.

The price tag for California’s high speed rail project could top $100 billion, news that could derail one of President Obama’s signature transportation initiatives.


A company seeking to set up a composting facility in Freetown that would recycle organic waste from restaurants and homes failed to get the necessary votes from the town’s planning board for a permit.

Scientists are finding chemicals in private wells on the Cape.

Great Barrington tallies up its tree damage. The town was one of the hardest hit by the recent snowstorm in the Berkshires.


A Boston man is suing the city and four police officers, alleging he was beaten after using his cell phone to video record their arrest of his friend in 2009, WBUR reports.

A Woburn real estate attorney who serves on the town’s zoning board of appeals faces federal charges of misappropriating mortgage loan funds from real estate closings, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Four Georgia men are held in a domestic terrorism plot.


New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. says the iPad has been great for the newspaper, Poynter reports. “You can literally get into bed with the audience,” he says.


A former top official of the Boston archdiocese has apologized for penning a piece in the archdiocese newspaper, The Pilot, which chalked up same-sex attraction to the work of the devil.