The Override Playbook: Chill ‘Em then Kill ‘Em

For the one hundred and fifty-odd Belmont voters who packed the Board of Selectmen’s room on Monday night the goal was clear: send a message to the town’s elected leaders that its time to lift Belmont out of its chronic state of fiscal crisis – which is nearing its first decade.
This year, more than ever, the cuts proposed to our schools and town services are more than just unpalatable – they’re offensive. Offensive to our values as a community, offensive to our long tradition of excellence in public education, and offensive to our commitment to making Belmont a livable, sustainable and nurturing community.
Alas, what those people walked away with was a chilly message from the Selectmen that’s as confusing as it is dispiriting. Despite wide agreement that the town faces a structural budget gap that is in excess of $3 million, the Selectmen claimed that, alas, too little was known about the real size of the gap. They held out the ever tantalizing promise of more money from the State and of other unnamed savings or slush accounts that might close the gap and – as always with such issues in Belmont – stalled for more time. Always more time. More time to analyze, more time to debate, more time to study and look for efficiencies.
Do not believe them. You might be new to the whole budgeting process in Belmont, so I’ll tell you flat out: what’s going on now – the BOS’s pleas for more time to consider and act carefully – are all part of a ploy by the anti override crowd to delay and then sink any Prop 2 1/2 override for the schools, the town or anything else.
In short, the Selectmen are stalling for time in an effort to avoid asking for an override. They’re hoping that the ardor of the Override supporters will fade with those April showers. If that’s not possible, and it may not be, then they want to make it as hard as possible for the voters in town to pass an override by shunting the vote till June, when families are wrapping up the school year and heading out of town, tipping the field to the entrenched “No” forces in town. And, ironically, by pushing for yet another “special election,” the Selectmen are satisfied to, once again, present the town with another bill of some tens of thousands of dollars to carry out the vote. If you’re a progressive and you live in Belmont, think of it this way: if you allow the Selectmen to delay an override vote past April, you’re going to be PAYING EXTRA to get what you DON’T WANT!!
Ask any poll watcher or political consultant in town and they’ll tell you the same thing: voters for special elections tend to be older and more conservative than the town as a whole.  Look at how Belmont voted in the 2008 Presidential election, and for Martha Coakley in the Senate Race, and again for Will Brownsberger and Gov. Patrick in the November election compared with how it has voted in special elections – there’s a clear discrepency for what looks, for all intents and purposes, like a left leaning community inclined to support school and town services versus a hard line “no new taxes” pledge. Cynics know it and want to keep that from happening at whatever cost. Shunting off override votes to sparsely attended summer “Special elections” is their preferred method of accomplishing that. Shame on Ralph and Mark for falling for it.
OK – I know – You’ve talked to Will Brownsberger about this and he’s wise and experienced and urges caution, too – says that we can’t pull a campaign together by April or need time to “plan our message.” I love Will, but he’s dead wrong on this. His advice is akin to those Dems who told Barack Obama he should wait his turn – that he was too new or hadn’t earned the cred to run. Shame on them for not being able to see the enthusiasm that was in the air and, later, to read the writing that was on the wall.
Look around, folks: concerned parents and supporters of school and town services have ALREADY ORGANIZED! In a matter of days, we put more than 200 voters in the BOS meeting room to push their issue. When was the last time that happened in Belmont?? Hell, when the seniors turned out a fraction of that number last spring, people practically fell off their chairs– and the BOS fell over itself to heed their cries and save the Council on Aging from even the suggestion of cuts in funding. We turn out 3 times that number and we’re told to quiet down? Be patient? Wait our turn? No way!!
The time for an override is April – before the cuts happen, before the pink slips are issued and the best, youngest and most creative faculty in our schools, the most talented IT professionals in our data centers and the most gifted administrators see which way the wind is blowing and startshopping around for a new job (if they haven’t already done so).
We don’t need a weather man to see which way the wind blows in the Town of Homes. We don’t need all the numbers to know that our town is deep down in a fiscal hole. And sitting around waiting for Governor Santa Claus and his 12 reigndeer to swing by Belmont with a sack full of cash is almost laughable. We know we need an override of some size – and voting to give the Town the right to raise taxes more than 2 1/2 percent doesn’t compel them to do so if – by some miracle – funds do materialize. The BOS want you to think that a YES vote ties their hands – it absolutely doesn’t.
Don’t fall for the “Chill ’em then kill ’em” ploy – we need to push hard for an override in April lest we find ourselves, once again, outmaneuvered by a vocal and ideologically bent “no” crowd that is happy to see our town and school system eviscerated in the name of “small government.”
Alas, if in the end, there’s no way to avoid a delay – for whatever reason – then I propose NOT ghettoizing the Override vote in an expensive, needless special election. If we can wait until June, then why not until November, or the next town- or state-wide vote, when the whole town can have an opportunity to vote on it in a state-wide election? Ensuring that the broadest swath of Belmont’s voters has a chance to register their wishes will ensure that we get government that reflects the values of the town – not the political smoke and mirror game we have now.