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Friday, January 27, 2006

Issues Slam!

The editorial board of the Cape Cod Times has challanged us all to answer their questions about the hot issues of the upcoming year (story HERE). Here's a rundown of last year with a Porcupine update:

"Each year in January, the Cape Cod Times editorial board identifies key issues facing the Cape in the New Year. Last year, affordable housing (no real progress), environmental protection (status quo), smart growth (good progress in two or three towns, resistance in others), ocean zoning (an enormous waste of energy with zero resuts), wastewater management (the County has created its Wastewater Monster, and it trying to figure out how to bully the towns into it), Canal Power Plant emissions (still one of the filthy five with no relief in sight), and Cape homeowner insurance costs (situation worsened with the loss of three additional companies) topped the agenda". Not a distinguished litany of progress.

"This year, the board has identified five priorities: school funding, affordable housing, good jobs, environmental protection, including wastewater management and ocean planning, and open government. The board intends to track progress of these issues throughout the year.

None of these priorities, however, can advance without leadership and an involved citizenry. As a result, the board invites Cape citizens to propose solutions to these recurring issues".

Since Mr. Mills wants a letter, here is mine. He won't run it of course, as the Times is extraordinarily bigoted against the dead, but I submit it herewith:

Dear Mr. Mills:

As you listed them, here is my response to your call for comments on issues.

School Funding: We are outnumbered. We have been and will continue to be. Our only salvation lies in a Department of Education revamping of the expired 1993 Moskowitz/Birmingham formula to reflect income levels over property values, which is what Romney did and you immediately slammed. Legislation to cap state reimbursement to any municipality or system at less than 100% should have been filed years ago; now that the Lottery is being uncapped, and certain select cities may go over 100% again, it will not get passed.

Affordable Housing: We need to allow more than one unit to an acre. What is the difference between a four bedroom home with two bathrooms on one acre, and a duplex with two bedrooms and one bath on each side on one acre? Zoning needs to be modified to allow the rental of ‘mother-in-law’ apartments to non-family members (actually, that will just legalize existing situations, but it will provide a better picture of actual available housing units by decriminalizing them). Also, if a person is willing to put an affordable restriction on a rental unit, they need to get abatement on property taxes to encourage this.

Good Jobs: Government cannot create good jobs. It can only get out of the way of the private sector which does create them. The Cape Cod Commission has been the single biggest inhibitor of job growth, while allowing 9,999 sq. ft. sprawls of strip malls, so perhaps eliminating is as something that has run its course would stop frightening employers away. The two entities with the biggest potential for good jobs at good wages are at the MMR and the wind farm – both of which have been demonized by the Times at various stages. Once train lines are extended to Cape Cod, we can become the quaint looking bedroom community that activists seem to want, with the jobs somewhere else.

Environmental Protection: This is quite a laundry list you have included in this category. I have blogged before on red tide (HERE), wastewater management (HERE) and the tyranny of the Assembly of Delegates (HERE). The short answer to your question is that towns want to retain their sovereignty, and smaller towns east of the Bass River don’t want to be put into a perpetual economic sublimation of the mismanagement of some others (HERE). We have some of the strictest economic laws in the nation, and creating new bureaucracies won’t make them any stricter – just more expensive.

Open Government: Government is actually more open here than it is in big cities; it just takes unfamiliar forms. Much of the push towards city councils and mayoralties is because newer residents don’t understand how important town meeting is, and don't want to be bothered to take an interest in how their town is run. They just want an expert authority where they can register complaints. The solution to open government is the ballot box – if you don’t like a selectman, run against him. Again, we have laws against closed meetings – creating a Star Chamber is just more expensive, not more efficient.

Biggest Missed Issue: The effect of the new property tax law. The law allows higher credits for those over 65, allows property values to be frozen for those over 65, and allows the exclusion of some of a house’s value for seniors. This all passed because it is ‘local option’ – yet in some Cape communities, the number of homeowners over age 65 is over 50% (Sen. Creem, who wrote the bill, has a percentage of 15% in her home town of Newton). The bill originally allowed those over 65 to vote on Prop. 2 1/2 overrides, and then not have to pay them! All of this is with no asset test of any kind – just earned income levels of $44,000 for a couple. Annuities, etc., all are not taken into account. Also, towns cannot track who is in a 'principal residence', so there is nothing to prevent a husband from declaring Dedham as a principal residence, wile the missus declares Dennis. The elementary step of requiring Social Security numbers on these declarations would at least allow the Department of Revenue to find mis-matches between towns and income tax filings. If every town meeting on Cape votes this in, then the burden falls entirely upon younger families who do not have the equity or assets to pay. Will this be the last brick in the road to our destination as an elderly, gentrified Disneyland?

Perhaps we will think about THAT in 2007.

Yr. Obedient Servant,
Peter Porcupine


Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

Good stuff, Peter. As Arnold has been heard to say, "I'll be back!"

7:53 PM  

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