Supporters and opponents of the late anti-tax advocate Barbara Anderson gathered Sunday in Randolph to remember her good natured individualism, civic activism, political savvy, professionalism and not insignificant success in lowering the tax burden for the people of Massachusetts. She and I were often – make that, usually – on opposite sides of issues. (The video presentation at the event included a sound bite from Barbara’s coming to Channel Five to rebut an editorial I wrote.) Yet the debate on both sides was sincere, well researched and respectful of the exchange of ideas.
Radio and TV commentator Jim Braude spoke of the hundreds of joint appearances the two had on various tax limit referenda when he was head of the Tax Equity Alliance of Massachusetts. They brought the debate from one end of the Commonwealth to the other, doing as many as five debates in a day, often travelling in the same car. An unlikely twosome, they came to enjoy a special relationship. Braude said that, despite the hours he had spent doing research and aggregating data to buttress his positions, Anderson nearly always won over the crowd with the clarity of her viewpoint, her smart communication skills and the authenticity of the case she made to legitimately concerned taxpayers.
Anderson was widely known as the mother of Prop 2 1/2, which Governor Charlie Baker called the most significant act of the last 35 years. It wasn’t just that it capped the seemingly endless growth of property taxes, he told the gathering. Prop 2 1/2 forced cities and towns to professionalize their tax administration and regularize and institutionalize 100 percent valuation. That reform served as the foundation for a rational distribution of local aid. Since then, all communities have been playing by the same rules and have had to do so with a far greater degree of transparency. In reflexive Democratic circles, those pluses of Prop 2 1/2 are often overlooked, as is the positive contribution of Anderson to civic engagement.
In watching the various video montages and listening to personal remembrances, I was struck by the difference in the tenor of political discourse then and now. In the midst of debates over Prop 2 1/2, a graduated income tax, repealing an income tax rate hike, and other ballot questions, the public and the media did get hot under the collar. But those disputes were statesmanlike compared to the schoolyard name calling and ad hominem attacks, the insults and the slurs, to which Donald Trump has subjected us today.
Anderson and her Citizens for Limited Taxation colleagues stuck with their issues but worked with the state legislature, the Mass. Municipal Association and others to work out compromises when referenda results (never the best way to pass complicated laws) needed to be modified. For many media folks, myself included, she also became a go-to person for thoughtful analysis of government proposals and problems. She was always determined that the voices of ordinary citizens would be heard, and hers was heard most of all.
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