Jeff Adair: Signs of a tax revolt?

Jeff Adair

Everybody's talking about recession. Is it coming? Can the government do anything to stop it? Which party has the best plan to boost the economy?

Gas prices are sky high. Stock prices are dropping like flies. Oil costs are going through the roof. Every day, the media seem to run a new story about the - mostly self-inflicted - mortgage crisis.

Are we in a recession right now? Who knows? I'm no economist. One thing I do know though, as an experienced observer, is that many people are at their wit's end.

They're voicing their anger, not at the irresponsibility in the private sector, but at the government for spending, to use a final cliche, like a drunken sailor.

As a case in point, take the town of Sudbury, Mass., home of the historic Wayside Inn and Martha Mary Chapel, the place where baseball great Babe Ruth used to rest his head, an attractive community with lots of open space and high-achieving schools.

Comparatively speaking, Sudbury, with a median household income of $149,999 in 2006 - more than twice the state average - is a place of wealth. Take a ride to the town and you'll see plenty of five-bedroom stately homes on several acres, in the $750,000 to $1 million price range.

In good times, few complained about teacher salaries or generous benefits, like the opportunity to take a year-long sabbatical at half pay.

In the good times, the town constructed a new fire station and regional high school. Back then, a recent proposal rejected by voters to construct a new police station would have been approved with few questions.

Then the economy soured. Some people lost their jobs. Some saw their companies requiring employees to pay more for health benefits. Some went through yet another year with a meager 2-percent raise.

Suddenly that $9,751 annual property tax bill, almost $200 a week, became unbearable.

Those who are truly wealthy remain silent but many others, who live in such towns only until their kids graduate high school, are hurting badly.

Over the past couple weeks, demonstrations of a revolt has showed itself on the Sudbury Town Crier Web site (, which has been swamped with comments from angry citizens, upset with local spending.

One day after a story was posted Tuesday about the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School budget, there were more than 100 postings in the comment section. A week after an earlier story "L-S officials defend budget" was posted, more than 200 comments were made.

True, some of the "anonymous vitriol" as L-S Superintendent/Principal John Ritchie describes it, is way overboard. It's, my words here: ranting, flip and mean, the kind of insults one hears from kids on the playground. However, some of it is legitimate, and eye-opening.

The complainers aren't just the loudmouth, grandstanding talk radio show types. It's not just uncaring, tight-fisted, so-called conservatives. Regular folks are speaking up and it's not just happening in Sudbury.

Questions are being asked that deserve answers. If officials were unaware before, they have to know now that the public has had enough, and many aren't going to take it anymore.

"I have a warm feeling in my heart for Sudbury taxpayers who are going through what we are all going through," Barbara Anderson, director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, recently told our Sudbury reporter. "We all have to pay more for fuel, transportation and other inflation items. But the cities and towns keep wanting us to come up with more money - in excess of (Prop.) 2 1/2. The educational establishments have to face reality. Most of the problems seem to come from the education budget."

Like it or not officials, those are the realities of 2008.

Jeff Adair is a MetroWest Daily News writer and editor. He can be reached at