Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analyzed the impact of growing retiree health costs on nine of the 10 cities with the lowest per capita incomes. In North Adams, for example, retiree health care amounts to 22 percent of the city’s property tax levy, or $445 on the average annual tax bill in North Adams.
"The impact on the budget is really marginal at best," said Andrew Bagley, director of research and public affairs for the Boston-based Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. He said it is difficult to argue against something viewed favorably by both businesses and consumers.
When he was reviewing the expansion plans, Michael Widmer, head of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said he was less concerned about the city’s role in the world than the project’s benefit to the local economy. Even today, he said, he is unsure of what that return will be. The project seems to be a sensible investment, Widmer said.
“There’s virtually no chance the Legislature gives him this authority,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, noting if Patrick were concerned about spending, he could have wielded more vetoes than the modest $16.1 million worth in this year’s $36.5 billion budget, which he signed yesterday.
“It’s a balanced, responsible budget,” said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer. “It’s a tight budget reflecting a small recovery.”
A report this month from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a business-oriented oversight group, underlines the severity of the problem across Massachusetts. Pension costs and health care for current and retired municipal employees continue to squeeze local budgets: Those costs grew 23 percent from 2007 to 2013.
Under intense pressure from groups like the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and the Massachusetts High Technology Council and the threat of a 2014 ballot question to repeal the tax, Gov. Deval Patrick and Legislative leaders relented, and in the process admitted that perhaps they had not understood the full economic picture and impact of the tax when they included it in their financing package.
With a slow but steady economic recovery expected to pump at least $1 billion in new revenue into state coffers next fiscal year, House and Senate lawmakers and the Patrick administration were urged Wednesday to consider building a truly balanced budget that doesn't rely on one-time money or reserve funds.
The group Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says most of the projected growth would be eaten up by mandatory costs such as Medicaid and pensions.
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer cautioned that the projected rise in revenue is less than in past economic recoveries that grew by 6 to 7 percent. They say most of the money will be quickly absorbed by current spending obligations.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates under 1,000 students annually would be affected by the legislation. They also say the state would gain rather than lose money because the bill would encourage students to attend school who would otherwise be unable to afford it.
“Any claim that that money isn’t for transportation is simply not true,” said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer. “As you well know, the transportation financing law had a lot of moving pieces, but the clearest new transportation funding going to transportation are the taxes on gas and the gas tax indexing.”