In my last column I discussed the budgetary challenges the city of Boston is facing as we head into the New Year. With over $61 million in stimulus funds drying up and a potential loss of $30–$40 million in local aid, we are looking at a potential total loss of $100 million.
We will, however, see an additional $30 million in Proposition 2 ½ levy growth. This will not be enough, however, to maintain the current level of municipal services that residents deserve and, frankly, expect. Simply put, we have to find ways to do what we do better.
One of the ways we can work to keep Boston flourishing and increase our revenue is to streamline the permitting process so that when development is planned and has financing, it isn't held up by the red tape of City Hall. There has been a lot of talk about the failed development in Downtown Crossing where Filene's once stood and it is my belief that if we had a more concise process to permit new development, that project would have moved forward. The lesson here, of course, is that we mustn't let something like that happen again and by streamlining the permitting process we can, in my opinion, avoid that same outcome elsewhere.
The Downtown Crossing project isn't the only example of business being held up by our permitting process. From East Boston to West Roxbury and from Hyde Park to Brighton, business owners large and small have run into bureaucratic red tape that in some cases has prevented new businesses from opening and adding to the fabric of the city and, also, to our tax base. Simply stated, we must find ways to do what we do better or business will go elsewhere.
It goes without saying that increased development and the opening of new businesses in Boston is a financial benefit to the city and, in this time of great economic strain with local aid being slashed and stimulus funds disappearing, we need to not only look at streamlining the permitting process, but also adding other incentives to bring jobs to Boston.
It is inevitable that some big companies – and even some smaller ones – will leave Boston for other communities in Massachusetts, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of our competition and take for granted the draw of having a business based in Boston. Surrounding communities, like Dedham, Waltham, Quincy and Braintree or even as far down as Rhode Island, are in the same boat as us and as such actively promote reasons to build and/or move to their community.
One of the ways we can entice business to stay in – or build in – Boston is by offering tax incentives. Earlier this year my colleagues and I approved a tax incentive for Liberty Mutual. That deal will save Liberty Mutual about $30 million over 20 years but increases annual property taxes by $5 million per year, which is more than we received with Salvation Army as the property owner. Residents should also feel confident knowing that we are able to keep residential property taxes low because we have commercial developments offsetting the cost of doing business.
As we move into a new year and a new council session my colleagues and I will be working on bringing new business to Boston with a streamlined permitting process in place, increasing the city's revenue and lessening the burden on you, the tax payer.