Innocent victims of empty coffers

RITA CHRISTOPHER May 4 1981

Innocent victims of empty coffers

RITA CHRISTOPHER May 4 1981

Innocent victims of empty coffers

RITA CHRISTOPHER

The immortal Mr. Dooley* once remarked that the Supreme Court follows the election. But in Boston these days, not even the elected officials follow the election. As a result, Boston’s public school children spent their Easter recess wondering whether school would open after the holiday—or whether they would begin summer recess 51 days early. The Boston school committee, the independent authority that runs the school, has already spent the entire $251 million for the year’s expenses and last week still had not found the $35.8 million needed to finish the school

The problem began last fall when Massachusetts voters, after years of escalating imposts that had earned the state the unenviable nickname “Taxaehusetts,” approved a proposition limiting property taxes to 2 1/2 per cent of assessed evaluation. In consequence, when the new fiscal year begins on July 1, Boston will get 70-per-cent less in state aid, a crushing blow to the schools.

Instead of trying to make the new voter-mandated taxation system work, however, Mayor Kevin White and the Boston city council busily converted the crisis into another weapon in their longstanding feud. The mayor, who recently told a group of municipal bond analysts with evident calm that “bankruptcy is very possible,” would like to pin responsibility for the inevitable new municipal taxes on the city council. “The problem is political not economic,” explained the canny White. He refused to accept any responsibility with respect to his own 13 years in office but was disarmingly frank in explaining why he would not take a more active lead in helping the school committee to find funds to continue the school year: “They’re up for re-election in September. I’ve still got three years to go.”

*The comic political sage created, by American humorist Finley Peter Dunne.

The city council, for its part, is in no mood to vote additional taxes unless it also gets the power to break the mayor’s stranglehold on municipal financing. Councilmen have accused White of everything from wasting $107,000 on refurbishing an executive dining room, to concealing the existence of his large personal and political staff by “transferring” them to jobs in the police, fire, sanitation and public works departments. The council’s price for going along with a package that includes new taxes on parking lots, hotel rooms and condominium conversions is a provision that would authorize recall of elected officials. And they make no secret of which elected official they have in mind. Said Councilman Albert O’Neill: “I think the mayor should be recalled for what he’s doing to this city.”

Mayor White has promised to veto any bill containing a recall provision. But at week’s end, the school funding issue was taken out of his hands. Judge Thomas Morse ruled that the schools should reopen on Monday; and gave him, and the council, until Tuesday to settle their differences and come up with the cash.