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I detect more than a whiff of concern trolling in the comments that Newton’s least fortunate cannot afford a larger override, that the mayor’s modest override proposal is already burden enough. What I suspect is really operating is basic anti-tax sentiment across the spectrum.

Look at the numbers. Newton is a wealthy town. Those at the median are doing pretty well. And, the increase from the override on the median homeowner (estimated at $686,000) is just $324. If that homeowner is carrying a $500K note, the monthly payment is more than $3,000. If a family can afford $3,000 a month in housing, they can afford an additional $324 a year. The impact is (unfortunately) arithmetic. Half the house price (and half the mortgage), the override is an additional $162 a year for a family already covering a $1,500 mortgage. The numbers don’t bear out the argument that the override is going to send families out of Newton.

Yes, the $324 or $162 a year is on top of existing property taxes. And, yes, there is some point at which taxes will become too much of a burden. But, the override has to be evaluated in the context of our overall tax burden. We are not overburdened. Because of federal income tax cuts (and the difficulty of raising state and local taxes) most people are paying less in combined local, state, and federal taxes (as a percentage of income) than they were in 1980.

The impact of the override is arithmetic highlights the fact that property taxes are regressive. Until we fix the ridiculously unfair way we fund education in the state, raising revenue for education and other city services is always going to fall disproportionately on the least fortunate. But, if we get hung up on the regressivity of revenue creation, we lose sight of the progressivity of government services. (A great op-ed on this point in the Times.) Arguably, the family that can least afford additional taxes can also least afford to lose the opportunity that good education provides. That family is least able to supplement with the private options available to the wealthier.

Support the override because it will help serve Newton’s least affluent.

At least, let’s stop using the least fortunate in Newton as a proxy for the real issue: whether or not government services are worth paying for. If you believe in the value of universal public education, you have to pay for it. If you want to have quality infrastructure and government services, you have to pay for it. It’s really that simple.

 

 







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