A new report by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) reconfirms the obvious -- incomes have not kept up with increases in housing expense, utilities expense and property taxes. Although there was an increase in the Massachusetts median wage in 2006, we still lag behind the wage level from 2003. Besides less money in our pockets, the consequences of the flat incomes of this decade have been less State revenue, hence less local aid and, yep you guessed it, higher property taxes.
As I've been knocking on doors of Ward 4 this summer, I've talked to more than a few families who, in their own words, are 'hanging by a thread' to stay in Newburyport. In some cases, folks are talking about the increases over the last several years in property taxes. In other cases, folks are talking about the quality of the public schools.
Over Labor Day weekend, I met two households on Howard Street whose situations illustrate the pressures. For a retired couple with a fixed income, property taxes are the main issue in this campaign. For a younger couple at the other end of the street, schools are the most important issue and at the same time they too are feeling the pinch (or perhaps vise-grip is a better analogy) of local property taxes.
To me, lowering reliance on the property tax and providing for an excellent public education experience are not mutually exclusive. Every municipality in Massachusetts is dealing with these problems. Each community needs to find its own path and that path needs to include finding efficiencies and reducing expenses in all areas of municipal governance, making the property tax less burdensome to households on fixed incomes by increasing utilization of certain exemptions, and a common plea from all 351 cities and towns for more State assistance, particularly for education where locally controlled school districts struggle under well-intended yet under-funded State and Federal mandates.
Oh, if you're thinking of moving/escaping to New Hampshire, remember they have local AND State property taxes---the 3rd highest property taxes in the Nation. Massachusetts 'only' ranks 9th. Their meals tax is 8% instead of our 5%. The grass isn't always greener...
The wage report and other informative publications are available on MBPC's web site, www.massbudget.org.