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Lowdown on the levy

I caught City Councilor Joe Mendonca on UML Sunrise (91.5 fm) this morning and finally got a clear, concise understanding of the tax levy—something I’ve been hazy about for some time.  He confirmed that Lowell is not up to its allowed tax levy (the levy is the amount that a community can raise through property taxes, limited since 1980 to 2.5% of the previous year’s total property value). The levy is cumulative, so that the amount a community doesn’t tax is added to the next year’s amount.  Joe also explained that one of the reasons we are under the levy is that the dramatic rise in property values in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s caused the “ceiling to open up.”  Now, with the depression of property values, the levy will most likely contract or at least not increase.  This does not bode well for city services; already somewhat diminished from the need to balance the budget and improve our bond rating (Joe also explained why a better bond rating is so important as we will get better interest rates on debt to fund big projects).  So, it seems to me the reliance on property taxes (besides placing an unfair burden on property owners who are on a fixed income, usually senior citizens) ties communities to the fickle ups and downs of the real estate market, and it is my fear that the cities, who do not fare as well when the market rises, are likely to be the hardest hit when it falls.  Joe, being a numbers guy, also gave a great explanation of net-school spending – another budget mystery, which I’ll talk about in another post.

Sunrise is interviewing all of the candidates for all three races (congress, city council and school committee) and podcasts of the interviews are available on their website (see above link).

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My two cents on tonight’s debate

Clearly, Jim Ogonowski didn’t think through his positions on social security and immigration. Although Niki Tsongas held her own in those areas, it was candidate Patrick Murphy who shined a bright light on Ogonowski’s flawed positions. Regarding social security, Ogonowski said he would not raise taxes, not repeal Bush’s tax breaks, and not raise the retirement age–he also promised to protect social security for those who depended on it. At that point, Murphy jumped in (it wasn’t his turn) and wanted to know how can that possibly happen? (Think about it: without new revenue or cost cutting, how can you pay for more social security? It makes no sense.) Regarding immigration, Ogonowski’s position was clear: enforce the law. (Imagine, if you will, deporting 12 million people and putting a huge, electric barbed-wire fence outlining our borders. Inside, with us, are millions of parent-less, American-born children living in squalor surrounded by rotting, unpicked food.) Niki, however, did a decent job on immigration, explaining how folks would get in line and wait their turn, and how earned pathways, including paying back taxes and learning English, would get them to citizenship. Ogonowski and the other two balked that a pathway to citizenship IS amnesty. Again, it was Murphy who took it further when he agreed we need an earned path to effectively deal with people here, but we also need to look at the reasons why people come here, and we need to rework trade policies. Overall, it was an interesting debate, and the hour flew by, Whatever happens next week, Patrick Murphy is a young man with fresh ideas, who has made a lasting mark on this campaign. I’m betting we’ll see more of him, hopefully without the distracting accent. 

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