One thing I’ve been
grateful for over the past few months: I didn’t have to pay
attention to the Boston mayoral race with its gazillion candidates.
Was able to focus on the new state tax package, the repeal of
sections of that new state tax package, an ongoing national fiscal
crisis, a possible war with Syria and the train wreck that’s
I’ve never lived in an
American city, so have never voted for a mayor. When my little
hometown in western Pennsylvania became a city in 1992 by
incorporating with the surrounding township, some people wanted my
popular father to run for mayor. I might have temporarily moved home
to vote for him, but like me, he didn’t have a vocation for elected
office, so declined to run.
Boston voters who were
somehow able to sort through all the candidates chose two finalists,
City Councilor John Connolly and state Rep. Marty Walsh. I don’t
know either one, though I fondly remember John Connolly’s father,
Michael, who as secretary of state oversaw petition drives,
including Proposition 2½ in 1980.
Among the opponents of
Prop 2½ were the public employee unions — primarily the teachers
unions, but including the police and firefighter unions who objected
to its repeal of compulsory binding arbitration. They lost the
ballot campaign and that negotiating benefit, but Rep. Marty Walsh
has been filing a bill to restore it for over a decade.
arbitration for police and firefighter unions was one of the reasons
that Massachusetts property taxes were the highest in the world
during the 1970s. If the community and the union couldn’t agree on a
contract, it went to compulsory arbitration, and the decision of the
arbiter was final and binding. In practice, we were told by
municipal officials, it always favored the union. This drove up
costs, which were covered by unlimited property taxes.
Another oddity in
Massachusetts law was school board fiscal autonomy. This is hard to
believe today: Before Prop 2½, city and town governments — mayors,
selectmen, city councils and town meetings — had to give the school
committee any amount it demanded. If they refused, it went to court;
we were told by municipal officials that the education establishment
always won and the community had to pay court costs, too. So,
communities just gave in and raised property taxes as much as they
During the early debate
on property tax limitation, the Massachusetts Municipal Association
(MMA) argued that its members couldn’t live with tax limitation
unless these two state mandates were repealed. So, when we drafted
the ballot question, we repealed them both. We also put in a
provision forbidding new unfunded state mandates on the cities and
While MMA still opposed
Prop 2½, it was grateful for these provisions, and during the ballot
campaign, two mayors and two boards of selectmen actually endorsed
it. Editorial boards liked the attempt at fairness and supported, if
not the entire proposed limit, these mandate provisions that would
give municipalities more control over their budgets.
Voters passed Prop 2½,
59-41; it’s been in effect since 1981. There were a few reasonable
changes over the years, including the return of a modified version
of arbitration for police and firefighters that required approval of
city councils and town meetings of the negotiated contracts. This
seemed fair enough; if they didn’t approve the contract, it went
back to the negotiating table until everyone agreed.
But the unions weren’t
satisfied with this compromise and have been filing a bill to
restore the compulsory, binding, property tax-raising version. Rep.
Walsh is the sponsor of this legislation, House Bill 2467. Suddenly,
the Boston mayoral race is important to me. Walsh’s bill hasn’t gone
anywhere, in a Legislature that has been supportive of Prop 2½, but
give him the bully pulpit of a Boston mayor, and we could have a
has come up
during the mayoral election because an arbiter just awarded a 25.4
percent pay hike, over six years, to Boston police patrol officers.
The Boston City Council is expected to balk at this. Walsh’s bill
would let the raises go through without council approval. We find
this threatening not only to Boston taxpayers, but to us all,
because it would apply to all communities’ negotiations.
Returning to the era of
final binding arbitration, with no town meeting or city council
approval, would be a major violation of Proposition 2½ and a
guarantee that the next legislative assault will be on the levy
limit, as municipal leaders argue that they need higher property
taxes to cover the expensive contracts.
Walsh is a longtime
union leader; unions have spent at least $872,000 on his race for
mayor, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
He’s denied that he’d place their interests ahead of the taxpayers
if he won, arguing that unions would be more inclined to be
reasonable if the mayor was one of their own. The usual union
dominance of the ground game in an election got him to the finals.
Now there is more scrutiny, and we’ve learned about House 2467. If I
could vote in Boston, it wouldn’t be for Marty Walsh.