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Governor proposes tax relief for elderly

Boston condos

Boston condos

Should seniors pay less property taxes than the rest of us Massachusetts’ homeowners?

You could make the argument yes, they’ve already paid their dues, plus they aren’t using their share of city services. You could make the argument no, taxes are paid based on value of homes, the cost is fairly and evenly distributed.

From today’s Boston Globe

Romney proposes elder tax relief

Gov. Mitt Romney proposed a tax relief package for elders on Wednesday that expands property tax deferrals to help seniors stay in their homes.

“Our seniors should be able to live their remaining years in the comforting surroundings of their homes and communities,” Romney said in a statement.

The proposal would make more seniors eligible for tax deferrals, which allow homeowners to put off tax payments until their homes are sold or transferred, and reduces the interest that municipalities can charge for the deferrals from 8 percent to 3 percent.

Mass. economy slows in 4th quarter

Along with the national GDP figures that came out today was news that the Massachusetts economy slowed its growth in the fourth quarter. Not the best of news, but Mass. still retains its lower-than-national unemployment rate.

Read more here.

Barney Frank, Car Czar

President Obama may have “no interest” in running General Motors, but Barney Frank sure does. From Today’s Wall Street Journal Opinion page.

The latest self-appointed car czar is Massachusett’s own Barney Frank, who intervened this week to save GM distribution center in Norton Mass. The warehouse, which employs some 90 people, was slated for closure by the end of the year under GM’s restructuring plan. But Mr. Frank put in a call to GM CEO Fritz Henderson and secured a new lease on life for the facility.

Mr Frank spokesman Harry Gural says the Congressman discussed, among other things, “the facility’s value to General Motors.” We’d have thought that would be something that GM might have considered when it decided to close the Norton center, but then again, a call from one of the most powerful Members of Congress can certainly cause one to reconsider what qualifies as “value”

The article goes on to say…

As Mr Gural put it, Mr. Frank was “just doing what any other Congressman would do” in looking out for the interests of his constituents. And that’s the problem with industrial policy and goverment control of American business. In Washington, every Member of Congress now thinks he’s a czar who can call ‘ol Fritz and tell him how to make cars.

Massachusetts Unemployment

real-estate-woes1

Jay Fitzgerald’s article from today’s Boston Herald:

A University of Massachusetts report out yesterday warned that the state’s jobless rate could hit 9.1 percent in a few months – and possibly head into double-digit territory soon afterward – at the current rate of economic decline.

Breaching the 9.1 percent mark would push the state’s jobless rate higher than it was during the severe recession that rocked the commonwealth in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Read more

Mass. home sales volume and prices drop

You probably read this in the daily newspaper, but here it is in an easy-to-read and understand format.

From The Warren Group:

[The Massachusetts'] condominium market, which experienced more moderate sales declines in September and October, saw double-digit percentage declines in sales and prices in November.

Sales sank 27.5 percent to 1,204 from 1,660 in November 2007. Sales through November decreased 23.1 percent to 18,862 from 24,514. The median condo price retreated 12 percent to $240,000 in November from $272,700 a year ago.

I don’t have a break-down for Boston, but it will be forthcoming. As you know, as a whole, Boston has not “suffered” a drop in average or median sales prices, although sales volume has dropped by between a quarter and a third.

Graphs courtesy The Warren Group

Mass unemployment rate lower than nation’s – hooray?

Good news: Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was only 5.5% in November, 2008, while the United States’ unemployment rate was 6.5% in November, 2008.

Bad news: Because Massachusetts’ rate was lower than the national average, Bay Staters who are currently unemployed will only receive seven extra weeks of benefits whereas those on unemployment in states with rates higher than 6% will receive up to thirteen extra weeks of benefits.

Go us?

How much is a gas heat conversion

The Globe had a great article in yesterday’s paper about converting your home from oil to gas heat.

Philip Giudice, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources says, “Massachusetts residents who heat with oil spent about $2,345 last winter, while natural gas users paid about $1,593.

… [Commissioner Philip] Giudice said “homeowners must weigh the up-front costs of converting – which range from $5,000 to upward of $10,000 – against how many years it would take to recoup the money through lower heating bills. Consumers also need to compare that number with the cost of other improvements they could make, such as adding insulation, upgrading appliances, installing weather stripping, or replacing windows.

The article is wonderful, but is really weak on the most important part – how much will the typical homeowner need to pay in order to make the switch? Saying “$5,000 – $10,000″ is pretty inexact. I would’ve preferred three or four real-life examples, and maybe one using a condo building.

I think converting to gas is a great idea (no offense, oil-guys) and not just for the cost; gas cooking is great.

Liver transplant, aisle three

I nearly choked on my Cheerios when I read this in last week’s Economist:

Until recently, few Americans went abroad for medical treatment. Over the past decade, however, that has begun to change. Americans seeking medical care are increasingly making trips far from home, often at their own expense—not just short hops to Caracas for a nip and tuck or dashes across the frontera for cheap Mexican pills …

… Hannaford, a grocery chain based in New England, now offers its 27,000 employees the option of getting a number of medical procedures done in Singapore rather than America—at a saving to the employee of $2,500-3,000 in co-payments and deductibles.

It’s true. Hannaford’s, as are other companies, is outsourcing its healthcare.

From Managed Care magazine:

Hannaford’s new coverage policy was prompted by stinging criticism from its European owners, says Hayes. For them, says the benefits manager, medical costs and outcomes in the United States just don’t add up.

“Look at what they’re spending in the United States,” says the benefits manager. “It’s two or three times what they’re spending in any other industrialized country. But if you look at quality, based on disability-adjusted life years (the international yardstick combining mortality and morbidity), we’re ranked dead last. So the Europeans said, why is health care going up at this extraordinary rate in the United States?”

Actually, employees can’t get liver transplants in Singapore. Yet.

So far, Hannaford is offering only hip replacement, but there are other possibilities: “back surgery, spinal fusions, and we’re not sure what else,” adds Hayes. “Down the road, having images read abroad is something that we might do.”

Why is a story about health insurance and operations showing up in a blog about real estate?

I have no idea.

Hurray! Universal Healthcare Law is working

Something we can all be proud of.

From the Globe:

Nearly three-quarters of previously uninsured Massachusetts residents now have medical coverage under the state’s landmark campaign to extend health insurance to virtually all Bay Staters, according to a report released yesterday by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration.

Since the program’s launch in June 2006, 439,000 more people have enrolled in health insurance, and nearly half of them signed up for private insurance not funded by taxpayers, says the report from the Division of Health Care Finance and Policy. Before 2006, studies had estimated that about 600,000 Massachusetts residents lacked health insurance.

Even better, by having insurance, many people who would otherwise use Emergency Rooms as their source of primary care, no longer have to.

… [F]rom July through September 2007, the most recent period for which data is available, the number of visits to hospitals and community health centers by the uninsured declined by 37 percent, compared with the same period a year earlier, the report said.

Go Massachusetts!

(Yeah, I know, it’s costing a lot of money. Sorry about that.)

Source: 439,000 more get health coverage; State shows big gains in landmark program – By Kay Lazar, The Boston Globe

Let the people drink

From the AP:

College presidents from about 100 of the nation’s best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth, and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age to 18 from 21, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

The movement called the Amethyst Initiative began quietly recruiting presidents more than a year ago to provoke national debate about the drinking age.

“This is a law that is routinely evaded,” a former president of Middlebury College in Vermont who started the organization, John McCardell, said. “It is a law that the people at whom it is directed believe is unjust and unfair and discriminatory.”

I’m all for this. I think the increase in the drinking age (which increased from 18 to 20 just before I turned 18 and from 20 to 21 just before I turned 20) was a stupid idea, but with the greatest of intentions, of course.

I can’t see it ever happening, though.

MADD is way too strong.

And, no state rep or senator is going to support it.

And, we’ll lose federal funds.

Bar owners might like it.

The alcohol industry would like it, but could never support it publicly.

Police? Probably hate it. But be serious, no one’s not drinking who wants to. They just do it in private. I think.

Source: College Presidents Want Lower Drinking Age – By Justin Pope, Associated Press, by way of the New York Sun

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