Principle is Primary
This is an observation about language and politics. It is an examination of intellectual honesty (I hope) too. Because it involves the subject of politics, interest will plummet, for sure. But hey, it’s my blog.
I was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in November, 1984 (that is not a typo). One of the members of my freshman class was Suzanne Bump, with whom I served on the Commerce & Labor Committee for my entire 6 years, before I retired myself on account of health – I got sick of politics.
I had nothing in common with Suzanne’s politics (nor she with mine), but she too was a young lawyer, and despite our ideological differences, I perceived her to be a comparatively honest person, intellectually. For lawyers, that’s a shaky concept, but go with me.
Suzanne is now a candidate for Massachusetts State Auditor, the one who examines the books of any state agency s/he wants to determine if everything’s on the up-and-up and no money’s being wasted. Tall order, in any state government, if taken seriously. Her opponent is Mary Connaughton, an extraordinary straight-arrow, a CPA, a courageous, fearless, humble and steely-minded person about whom who anyone with anything to hide should be concerned.
Now it comes to be that Suzanne and her husband own two residences – a condo in South Boston, and a house in Great Barrington – as far from Boston as it is possible to get without crossing a state line.
Good on them, I say! A place in the city, a place in the country. Who doesn’t strive for such a thing, eh?
To my great dismay, I learned that Ms. Bump and her husband have run into a small problem with their interpretation of language – and being both lawyers, this is the point of my post.
It seems that this fortunate couple has elected to take advantage of their dual localities’ property tax breaks for “principal” or “primary” residences. Calling one residence “principal” (according to its regulation, let’s say for the sake of generosity) and the other one “primary” ( likewise), they’ve garnered property tax reductions amounting to thousands and thousands of dollars. Here’s a simple precise of the problem:
According to the story by Northeastern University journalism professor (and former Globe reporter) Walter Robinson and his team of student reporters, Bump and husband Paul McDevitt made their Great Barrington home their primary residence in 2002. By registering to vote there, they qualified as full-time residents and thus avoided the additional personal property tax that community assesses on homeowners who are not, thereby saving them $300 to $400 a year.
Then, in March of 2007, Bump and McDevitt applied for a principal-residence tax reduction on their South Boston condo, a break which has saved them about $6,000 in taxes since then.
Here’s how my dear colleague chose to explain:
“Great Barrington is my primary residence. That’s where I have a three-bedroom house that I consider my home,’’ she said. “I principally reside in the city of Boston. Primary residence, principal residence — I see them as two different things.’’
I see them as two different things.
See, this is the beauty of thinking of yourself as a writer first and a lawyer second. You gain a deep appreciation for the importance of language, each and every word of it, and thereby, avoid stepping in your own bullshit.
This is what politics does, even to good people.
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