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Dispelling the Myth of Home Rule:

Local Power in Greater Boston

March 16, 2004
David Barron (Assistant Professor of Law, Harvard Law School) Gerald Frug (Brandeis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School) and Rick Su (Student, Harvard Law School)

Home rule lurks behind every important concern of Greater Boston. Local policies on a wide variety of issues – finance and management, land use, housing, and education – depend on the state grant of home rule. But real local authority in Massachusetts is restricted. Cities and towns have little discretion over taxes, fees, and borrowing, and only fragmented control over their public schools. State government imposes a number of unfunded mandates. State law supersedes local law on all issues, forcing localities to seek special state legislation on matters of immediate concern.

Based on interviews with local officials in the 101 towns and cities that make up Greater Boston, the study by David Barron, Gerald Frug, and Rick Su argues one way to open up the possibilities for regional policy is to take the local desire for home rule more seriously. This important work provides a much-needed blueprint to the most fundamental issue of state and local governance in Massachusetts.

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