Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Wed May 8 01:18:25 UTC 2002

This word just appeared in a letter from our Town Manager. It's new to
me, but I understood it at once. Let me set the context:

Massachusetts has a local-tax limitation law called "Prop(osition)
2-1/2". This provision limits municipal increases in tax revenue to 2.5%
per year, excluding revenue from new development and construction,
unless the town passes a measure to explicitly override the restriction
and raise the local tax rate to yield a greater increase; such a measure
is called a tax override, or simply an override. The state currently
short-changes our town (old politics, don't ask), and with the current
downturn in the national and state economy, without an override vital
town services will be crippled. The Town Manager said that if, in the
future, the state revises its formula and we get an equitable share of
funds, the tax income resulting from the override would then be surplus,
and the town could give it back to the taxpayers by reducing the tax
rate with an underride.

Apparently the word "override" is so firmly associated here with the
sense of "special vote to raise taxes" that reversing the prefix is
instantly understood as reversing the algebraic sign. A Google search
(after eliminating references to a type of car-truck accident and a band
called Underride) got me this definition from the Massachusetts
Municipal Association site, at
http://www.mma.org/local_government/ask_mma/underide.html [sic]

Q: My town has built up its cash reserve fund over the last few years
and the finance committee has suggested an "underride" as opposed to an
override. How does this work, and have any other towns passed one?

A: Proposition 2 1/2 (MGL Ch. 59, Sect. 21C(h)) allows a town to reduce
its levy limit by passing an underride, which results in a permanent
decrease in the amount of property taxes that a town may levy.

An underride may be placed on the ballot by a majority vote of the board
of selectmen or, if allowed by local law, an initiative procedure.
Underrides require a majority vote of the electorate.

There have not been many underrides attempted in Massachusetts. One
occurred due to the cancellation of a project for which an override was
passed. The town of Plymouth recently passed an underride to reduce
excess capacity.

-- Mark A. Mandel
   Linguist at Large

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