Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

Fiscal Watchdogs stay on the trail Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Craig MacCormack Metrowest Daily News
Members of a fledgling group that vows to fight for fairness for all taxpayers don't expect to be here today and gone tomorrow, even after their first major effort was sent back to them at Town Meeting in October.

The Framingham Taxpayers Association expects to have plenty of battles on its hands in the coming year and beyond as the town's financial picture remains "bleak," according to Town Manager George King.

The FTPA - which has about 50 members and counting - is researching the town's health insurance costs, advocating and pushing the bench-marking idea, and will hand out questionaires to selectmen candidates in the spring.

"We're in this for the long term," said FTPA spokesman Steve Kruger.  "The process for political change is a tough one, and we understand that.  We see the Town Meeting vote as a temporary setback."

An FTPA article that would have given homeowners a tax break if a townwide trash fee were implemented was referred back to its sponsor.  The effort was killed due to misinformation by several speakers opposed to it, said Kruger.

The FTPA wanted to give the amount collected from a proposed trash fee back to taxpayers through lower bills.  The article said creating a townwide trash fee for regular pickups should come through a Proposition 2-1/2 override.

The idea for the FTPA started late in October 2002, when override opponent Mal Schulze advocated for a group called Citizens for a Better Government, which he saw as an entity "that was ready to do battle."

He floated the idea to others who met with him for political talk on most Sunday mornings and fellow conservative (and selectman candidate) Harold Wolfe brought the idea to life.

"How many times do you want to do everything that's involved with a campaign of that magnitude without being prepared?" asked Schulze, whose effort to kill the 2002 override lost by about 350 votes.

Schulze sees the FTPA as "a fairly loose organization," one that is in the same mold as efforts in North Andover and Newton and largely based on the Citizens for Limited Taxation.

But he has been disappointed so far that most of FTPA's efforts have been centered on research.

"It's not as action-oriented as I perceived or wanted it to be," said Schulze.  "I think the proof of the pudding is going to have to come pretty soon."

With early budget projections for fiscal 2005 showing the schools getting less money than they got this year, Schulze sees a fiscal battle that's prime for FTPA involvement.

One of the ideas floated by King during a budget presentation to selectmen was stopping townwide trash pickup, which would be a $3 million savings in the next fiscal year.

Schulze bristles at that suggestion, saying $2.5 million of the $4.5 million override in 1991 was earmarked for trash pickup.

"That wasn't in anyone's mind a one-time thing," he said.  "Why are we even talking in that area?  Why are we trying to come up with a new way to pay for that service?

"That turned on my light.  Pay-as-you-throw is just another tax burden.  That's what an organization like this is around for:  to be prepared and to fight any tax increase in advance," he said.

Kruger expects plenty of action from the FTPA in the near future.

"We're looking to be a positive, constructive force," he said.  "A lot of groups like this are focused just on not having an override and we want to do more than that.

"That's certainly the driver, but we're looking at the ways government can be more efficient and avoid the ups and downs of the economy.  In the past 10 years, there are a number of steps taken and not taken that have been unfriendly to the taxpayer," he said.

With plenty of work left on the fiscal 2005 budget, King looks forward to hearing the FTPA's ideas.

"A lot of groups try to (make the government run more efficiently)," said King.  "If people know how to save me money, I'd like to hear it.  It's always good to see people involved in government.  There's room for groups like this."

For more information on the Framingham Taxpayers Association, log on to www.framinghamtpa.org

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