Our view: Local tax take soars, but it’s still not enough

According to a report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, property tax revenues across Massachusetts rose by 4.1 percent, the largest annual increase since 2010. Overall, total municipal revenues increased by 3.8 percent.

Cities and towns are not only making more in property taxes, they are charging residents more for the privilege of living in their communities.

Local non-property tax receipts such as motor vehicle excise, hotel and meals taxes, building permits and service charges grew by $220 million in fiscal 2015, according to the report. The 5.1 percent increase in those revenues was the largest leap since fiscal 2008.

Most individuals, if their incomes were to increase 3.8 percent to 5.1 percent annually, would be quite content. But the cities and towns are not happy. In fact, they’re quite dissatisfied, according to the MTF report.

Municipalities claim their revenue growth is insufficient to keep up with “fixed cost” increases. The MTF report says Bay State cities and towns are “stuck in an era of modest rebound” as the revenue increase remains below the benchmark of 5.2 percent annual revenue growth recorded between 1982 and 2009.

“The pursuit of the 5.2 percent average annual revenue growth we witnessed between 1982 and 2009 continues to become more unattainable in the short term,” MTF President Eileen McAnneny said in a statement reported by the State House News Service.

It’s amazing how much money government can siphon from taxpayers’ pockets and still remain dissatisfied.

We’d wager there are few, if any, Bay State families who are seeing their own incomes increase by 5.2 percent annually, some are not even hitting the current 3.8 percent mark.

So while taxpayers are making less and less, those who govern them are taxing more and more — and complaining that it’s still not enough.

Something has to give — and it’s not on the taxpayers’ side.

The MTF report supports that conclusion.

Many of these “fixed costs” municipal leaders lament are not “fixed” at all but rather salary and benefits increases for municipal employees they themselves negotiated away.

The MTF report states the average salary for a municipal employee grew by 3.7 percent in the first half of fiscal 2015, compared to a 3.3 percent increase in average wages for private sector workers in Massachusetts. Total spending on municipal wages grew by 4.5 percent because of the addition of 2,000 employees.

Cities and towns also face a collective $45 billion in unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities, a burden that’s forcing local officials to make difficult decisions about spending priorities, the report said.

It’s time to spend less, the report concludes.

“Municipalities’ growing reliance on and limited control over property taxes, along with the unlikelihood of dramatic increases to state aid and local receipts, signals that municipal budgets must increasingly align with the slower growth rate of recent years,” the report said.

Yet spending less rarely enters into communities’ fiscal planning. Any such suggestion is met with a panicked outcry about the loss of “essential” services and immediate threats to cut police and fire protection — the municipal services that have the greatest impact on people’s lives.

The only recourse taxpayers have is at the ballot box, by seeking out and electing candidates for municipal government who promise to get local spending under control, who serve the taxpayers and not the municipal employee unions.

Elect candidates who will make those promises, then insist they keep them.

Source: Salem News, December 4,2015

 

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