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This is the third in a three-post series on the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) requirement that Newton pose separate debt-exclusion ballot questions for two school renovation/replacement projects.

Perhaps most frustrating about the MSBA’s policy requiring separate ballot questions for the Angier and Cabot school projects is how the policy extends the impact of Proposition 2-1/2. Prop 2-1/2 isn’t going away anytime soon, despite its deleterious impact on Newton and other municipalities. But, in shaping its policies and how they are implemented, the MSBA could choose to minimize or maximize the role of Prop 2-1/2.

The animating force behind Prop 2-1/2 is a desire to make it more difficult for municipalities to raise taxes. On the narrow policy question — separate ballot questions or not — the MSBA has aligned with the pro-Prop 2-1/2 position: raise the hurdle on raising taxes. Alternatively, the MSBA could have — without undermining the basic limitations of Prop 2-1/2 — given municipalities more flexibility. The MSBA has embraced and extended Prop 2-1/2.

If you are fan of Prop 2-1/2, the separate ballot questions requirement is probably a feature, not a bug. But, to those of us who think artificial restraints on the taxing authority undermine representative democracy and hamper the ability of elected officials to address the needs of the city with sufficient flexibility, it’s all bug.

To wrap up the series, there are three major problems with the MSBA’s separate ballot question requirement. The requirement:

  • Does nothing to meet the policy objectives of transparency and accountability, both of which are ably addressed by other MSBA policies and requirements
  • Imposes an extra burden on larger municipalities
  • Where the municipality has to seek an override to pay for projects, it adds to the already difficult Prop 2-1/2 hurdles

There is no question that, in response to the Newton North problems, the MSBA has imposed a justifiably more intensive process for municipalities looking for state funding. But, this particular requirement serves no valid policy purpose.

Let Newton decide how it wants to pose the override requests.

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