With nearly $15 million in tax increases at stake, local pro- and anti-override are preparing their campaigns to influence Newton residents preparing to vote in March on three measures to increase taxes.
One group has already pulled in more than $16,000 in contributions while the other campaign hasn’t raised any money yet – but past override votes suggest that while override campaigns can be costly, the side with the most cash doesn’t always carry the day.
The leaders of the two groups – No Override Newton and Vote Yes For Newton – say they’ll be working to get supporters to the polls on March 14, when voters will consider three ballot measures: One to pay $2.3 million a year to repair the Countryside School, one to pay $3.5 million a year for repairs to the Franklin School — with both payments completed after 30 years — and one to add $9.2 million to the city’s general budget.
“As a campaign our goal is to educate people, give them the information they need to make their own decision,” said Kerry Prasad, co-chair of Vote Yes For Newton, which is supporting all three measures. “We think when people have that information they will see why the override is necessary. We’re going to get the word out there.”
“What I see is giving me a lot of confidence .. all kinds of groups have sprung up because of dissatisfaction with the way the city is run,” said No Override Newton chair Traute Marshall, adding her group is opposing all three measures. “Overrides should not be necessary, if the city does not have funds for X it should cut Y.”
No Override Newton officially formed earlier this month, and Marshall said it is slowly coming together.
“We have a committee, a bank account as of two days ago,” Marshall said. “This is grassroots and put together on the fly, we hope to tap into what we see as a lot of dissatisfaction in how the city is run.”
Marshall said the group will push for city officials to find money from other sources rather than the tax increases of the operating override and debt exclusions.
“Our fundamental assertion is that the city has a budget that goes up 2.5 percent, we should be living within that budget, as simple as that,” Marshall said. “A lot of people on low incomes cannot afford Newton because of the taxes.”
No Override Newton has not filed any donations or contributions, according to the city’s Elections Commission. But Vote Yes For Newton has been raising money over the past few months, pulling in $16,236 from 49 donations by the end of 2022 while spending about $3,600 on voter databases and website development, according to campaign filings.
Several people donated $1,000 with two – Susan Heyman and Steven Grossman – having donated $3,500 and $2,500 respectively. Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, who called for the overrides, has donated $500 as has her husband Joseph Fuller. Robert Larner, whose wife Anne is a Newton Beacon board member, also donated $500 to the group.
Prasad and co-chair Christine Dutt said the group was organizing informational meetings and connecting with people online, but was readying for retail politics as well.
“We’ve ordered lawn signs, we are working on a draft mailer now,” Dutt said. “Campaigns have changed because of the pandemic but the fundamentals of getting the word out to people, like knocking on doors, remain.”
The chairs said they were working to explain to voters how Prop. 2 ½ caps how much municipalities can raise property taxes, and then make the case that the proposed increase was necessary.
“If you think about [the increase] in a per week calculation it’s less than $10 a week. We understand for some folks that seems like a lot, especially in an inflationary environment, but also inflation is why the operating override is necessary, the city’s costs are going up like everyone else’s,” Dutt said.
Marshall said the no campaign was based around adhering to the restrictions of Prop 2 ½.
“The will of the voters is to be taxed at at most 2.5 percent, there should be high hurdles to overtake that,” Marshall said, saying the group opposed the debt exclusions for capital projects like the proposed school repairs as well as increases to the operating budget. “The city knows that buildings need to be maintained, sometimes repaired and sometimes replaced. That’s not new, it should be part of the regular budget.”
Marshall was involved in the No campaign during the 2013 override vote as well, while Dutt and Prasad said they did not work on the Yes campaign. That vote also was split into three measures – one for repairs to the Angier school, one for repairs to the Cabot school, and an $8.4 million operating override – and all passed.
Campaign finance filings from that year show the No group, Moving Newton Forward, only raised about $4,000 that was mostly spent on advertising and mailing. But the Yes group, Building Newton’s Future, raised more than $72,000 from almost 200 donations during the course of the campaign. Much of that money was spent on a political consultant, voter ID information and get out the vote paraphernalia – mailers, postcards, door hangers and phone calls.
But heavy spending hasn’t guaranteed victory in Newton. In 2008, a proposed $12 million override was hotly contested before a June vote, with many donors digging deep. A Newton TAB analysis found that the pro-override group Move Newton Forward – distinct from Moving Newton Forward in 2013 – raised more than $122,000 from 300 donations to the anti-override group Newton For Fiscal Responsibility’s haul of $12,000 from 45 donations.
But the override failed by 2,000 votes. The pro-override group spent $11 per vote in a losing effort, compared to the anti-override group’s 89 cents per vote in victory, the TAB found.
The rate of donations to votes this year – and whether a win at the bank means a win at the ballot – remains to be seen.
Dan Atkinson can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: Information about donations in this article has been corrected for accuracy.