|State Auditor Candidate Diana DiZoglio Urges PILOT Reform|
|By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff |
04:13PM / Wednesday, August 03, 2022
LEE, Mass. — Diana DiZoglio says the state's payment in lieu of taxes program, or PILOT, should be fully funded, especially with the Bay State having a 2023 budget surplus totaling about $3.6 billion.
The Democratic candidate for state auditor visited October Mountain on Tuesday to speak on PILOT reform, which is a priority in her 17-Point Social Justice and Equity Audit Plan.
"Funding by the commonwealth for payments in lieu of taxes on state-owned lands began in 1910 under Massachusetts General Law chapter 58, Sections 13-17, but starting with the fiscal crisis of 1989, the law has been underfunded to the detriment of our municipalities and especially our rural towns, which host massive amounts of state property," she said.
"And despite the fact that the fiscal year, which ended 33 days ago, resulted in the state having a budget surplus of approximately $3.6 billion, we have not been able to fully fund the PILOT line item, again payment and lieu of taxes, in the state budget at the full amount highlighted by the state auditor's office that is needed to fully fund the program at $45.6 million."
PILOTs are intended to replace lost revenue from tax exemptions and help minimize revenue impacts on communities with recreational areas, solar and wind farms, nonprofit institutions, and state-owned land.
DiZoglio said the program's appropriation has been around $30 million since the fiscal 2009 while property tax collections have increased by about 57 percent.
She said $600,000 is being shortchanged from the program this year, which is "$600,000 that the cities and town have to come up with out of their own budget."
Local officials for years have said the assessments have not kept up with actual values. Rural Berkshire towns such as Savoy and Washington have between one-third and a half of their land under state ownership.
For example, nearly half of Clarksburg is owned by the state but its PILOT payments for this year only amount to $26,285. Savoy has around 12,000 acres of state land for which it is getting around $120,000 and the value of state land in the town of Washington is assessed at about $7.8 million -- for which it's getting about $90,000.
"With an extremely limited and almost all residential tax base, the failure to fully fund pilot creates severe financial hardships on these small towns as they struggle to pay their share of regional school budgets and maintain their roads," DiZoglio said.
As state senator for the 1st Essex district, she is a co-sponsor of a bill to reform PILOTs that was filed by state Sen. Adam Hinds.
One of the candidate's highest priorities is to implement recommendations from State Auditor Suzanne Bump's 2020 report that showed the program is underfunded and negatively affects smaller rural communities in Western Mass compared to larger, wealthier communities in the eastern part of the state.
"As auditor, I will direct my staff to conduct spot checks of PILOT payments to provide ongoing updates and information and to ensure the Legislature has the most up-to-date information to address the issue of regional equity," DiZoglio said.
"State forests like October Mountain are wonderful recreational resources for residents of the third most densely populated state in the nation to enjoy alongside tourists and visitors but we must keep fiscal faith with host communities like Beckett, Lee, and Washington, that we will adhere to state law by making good on our PILOT appropriations every year."
DiZoglio grew up housing insecure with a young single mother in Lawrence and Methuen. After earning a full scholarship to Wellesley College, she became the first in her family to graduate.
"I have a 10-year proven track record in the state legislature of standing up on Beacon Hill and speaking truth to power, regardless of party affiliation, on the abuse of taxpayer dollars and on issues, particularly surrounding transparency, accountability, and equity," She said.
Before being elected, DiZoglio experienced sexual harassment as a legislative agent and later worked to stop taxpayer-funded non-disclosure agreements.
She then worked to expose the abuse of non-disclosure agreements with the former speaker of the House and found that there were at least three of them in the current auditor's office.
This is unacceptable to the candidate and she has called for audits of the NDAs.
"The way that the leadership team in the House of Representatives thought it was appropriate at that time to make the harassment stop was to fire me so the harassment would stop happening and then require that, on my way out the door, that I signed a taxpayer-funded nondisclosure agreement that was meant to stop me from talking about literally anything that I'd seen, witnessed or experienced behind the closed doors of Beacon Hill among some of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts," she said.
"But I didn't let them get rid of me or keep me quiet. And I didn't leave state government like they told me to do, I instead decided to run for state rep myself and a little over a year later made my way back into that same chamber as the youngest woman serving in the House of Representatives at that time and since then, I've been fighting like how to make sure that other working families like mine who have also been disenfranchised, isolated, dismissed or ignored for whatever reason."
DiZoglio was asked about Bump's endorsement of her opponent Chris Dempsey and said the outgoing auditor has the right to endorse who she sees fit.
The candidate also spoke in support of the Fair Share Amendment that would impose a 4 percent surcharge on earnings past the first $1 million to support transportation — including fixes to roads and bridges — and education and the east/west passenger rail.
She was joined by Paul Mark, Democratic candidate for state Senate, on the last and second stop of her Western Massachusetts run in Plainfield. The two have unofficially endorsed one another's candidacy.