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Override Fails

The Eagle reports that:

Voters rejected a Proposition 2 1/2 override in yesterday’s annual town election by a narrow, 80-vote margin in a heavy turnout. The town will now have to cut roughly $530,292 from four major budget areas before next week’s annual town meeting.

I am impressed with the sophistication of the voters of Williamstown. Last year, they voted for the override. One way to interpret this, perhaps, is that they were ready to treat last year as a true (one time) emergency. This year, they felt, collectively, that town officials were not trying hard enough to be frugal. So, now those officials — including Professor Ralph Bradburd — get to try harder. This is precisely how the architects of Proposition 2 1/2 hoped that it would work.

But John Weyers voted against the override. “My personal opinion is that the budget isn’t handled right, and the teachers need to pay more for their medical insurance,” he said after voting in the afternoon.

Like John Weyers, I am suspicious of some of the budgeting at, at least, the high school.

The override failed despite a concerted effort to drum up support from Together for Williamstown, a ballot question committee that was reformed this year to push for an override.

“I thought we were going to win,” said Together for Williamstown Chairman George T. “Sam” Crane. “A lot of people put in a lot of effort.”

“Everybody’s going to get hurt by this, and that’s the shame of it,” he said.

I am sad that all of Sam’s hard work failed to win the vote. I still think that there is a great senior thesis to be written about the efforts of TFW. It’s not too late for a smart ’05’er to start interviewing people and taking surveys.

And now, what says Williams College? Longtime readers will know that the College’s contributions to Mount Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS) have been an interest of mine. [Interest? How about obsession. — ed. No, Barnard/VISTA is an obsession. MGHRS is an interest.]

It is clear that folks from Williamstown would like the College to contribute again. College officials have repeatedly said that last year’s contribution was “one time” in nature. Place your bets.

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#1 Comment By jeff On May 12, 2004 @ 8:38 pm

so you’re “impressed with the sophistication of williamstown voters?”

what did you expect?

#2 Comment By David Kane On May 12, 2004 @ 8:47 pm

Unsophisticated voters would either always vote No to overrides (“Damn politicians spending my money!”) or always vote Yes (“It’s for the children!”). Given that they voted Yes last time, I expected a Yes vote this time. Perhaps I should have said that I was impressed with the lack of serial correlation in override votes.

Sophisticated voters give the politicians a chance to deal with the “emergency” and then, when the voters don’t like the results, take the extra money away.

Another way to view this is that the voters have discovered/concluded that Williams will cover any shortfall in education expenses. So, they are playing a game of chicken with the College.

Of course this anthopomorphicization (sp?) of an entire community is the sort of stuff that only someone with too much time at graduate school could go for.

#3 Comment By (d)avid On May 12, 2004 @ 9:22 pm

David, while your argument is plausible, the empirical evidence of your “sophisticated voter” argument is non-existant.

1) We don’t know the behavior or rationale for individual voters. You need to know the utility functions for the voters to know whether the strategy played is sophisticated.

2) It is entirely possible that an “emergency” can last more than one year. In fact, Sam Crane argues that the surge in special education expenses are the major source of budgetary problems. The special education students haven’t gone away and the expenses may still be there. Passing the override may simply have been recognition of an ongoing problem.

3) It is also possible that Williamstown has different preferences with regards to educational spending than does the rest of the state. Proposition 2 1/2 was passed by the state (I believe). Passing the override could simply be a rational response to a rule imposed by voters across the state.

In both of these instances (#2 and #3), a correct strategy for the “sophisticated” voter is to vote for the override. Your argument is just as reasonable (though, the funding crunch that Sam outlines would cast doubt).

It should also be noted that you are defining sophistication merely in terms of the strategy played by the voters. Scholars such as Delli Carpini would be more concerned with the political knowledge of the voters.

Even on purely strategic grounds, your account of what would constitute “strategic” behavior is questionable. A voter who prefers high educational expenditure SHOULD vote for the override every time. Similarly, a voter who prefers low taxes (and, consequently, low educational spending) SHOULD vote against the override every time. Switching makes sense only for a particular type of individual voters.