EDITORIAL: Taxation with representation

When Marbleheaders attend Town Meeting this spring, among the decisions they are likely to face is whether to place on the ballot a question to raise their own and their neighbors’ property taxes. 

The 2023 Town Meeting warrant will be published later this month. A permanent override for school costs was defeated in June 2022, and the town hasn’t approved a general property tax override since 2005.

We won’t use this space to comment now on the merits of past or upcoming overrides. Rather, it seems fitting that in light of the opportunity for determining taxation with the most basic kind of representation — one’s own vote —  that we take a moment to remember the Marblehead citizen most responsible, Barbara Anderson.

Anderson, who once remarked that her trademark red hair matched her temper, headed the anti-tax group Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government for 35 years. For much of that time, she led the organization out of her Village Street home.

When she wasn’t on Beacon Hill lobbying for tax relief or debating on its behalf around the state, she spent plenty of time on issues of concern to our town. She was a regular attendee at Town Meeting and served on the Finance Committee from 1978 to 1981. She was appointed a “watchdog” on the 2010 Glover School Building Committee, argued local issues on MHTV and set the standard for an engaged citizen. Her temper, if she had one, was always leavened by a quick wit and hearty laugh. 

The statewide referendum Anderson championed in 1980 revolutionized municipal budgeting.  In the four decades since Proposition 2 1/2 was passed, a rigor in budget planning and a healthy coordination across departments have been the norm.  

The recent State of the Town presentation by Town Administrator Thatcher Kezer is a case in point. Rather than simply raise revenues to match spending, like the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey budgeting approach before Prop 2 1/2, the town is planning for a budget with no overrides as well as contemplating scenarios with additional revenue.

After Anderson’s death in 2016, CLT continued on for a few years with dwindling resources and members before shutting its doors for good in late 2022. 

One need not agree with CLT’s motto, devised by Anderson, that “every tax is a pay cut, and every tax cut is a pay raise” to appreciate her legacy.

Moreover, engaged citizens should be inspired by her example, particularly now that anyone venturing into the public square risks a venomous assault on their character.

Anderson kept the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling hanging on her kitchen wall. It begins:

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” 

Anderson did all that and more during her time in the public square.

We are grateful to be reminded once again of why it and she mattered. 

The Current Editorial Board
info@marbleheadnews.org | + posts

The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.

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