Boston’s Fair Share

Still Haunting City Politics

 Both The Globe and The Herald report on the change of the residential tax rate. This story of rising home taxes at a time of a real estate slumb is irresistable for both of them. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Boston is handcuffed by an archaic system of finance that prevents it from raising revenues on its own. Dating back to the days when the Yankees who controlled the State House instituted tough measures as a block on urban Irish power, these rules provide the city only a handful of mechanisms to raise funds, namely property tax, which everybody admits is clumsy and often unfair. Under this  outdated structure, it’s up to the state to return the funds to the city, which only gets back one dollar for every six it sends to Beacon Hill, in the form of local aid. This was an attempt to suppress James Michael Curley, a story former Globe reporter Scott Greenberger wrote back in 2003.

Mayor Menino and the city’s crack assessor, Ron Rakow, are doing everything they can lessen the blow on property owners. The city provides a generous residential exemption and measures exist to provide the elderly relief from the increases. Boston is still a great deal compared to other towns and municipalities. Deval Patrick frequently talked about the increase in property taxes during his criticism of Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. As she emphasized the need to hold the line on the income tax, Patrick reminded voters about both the rise in property tax and fees during the last four years. Mitt Romney who is running for president as a fiscal conservative actually oversaw a period of tax increase on the local level, accelerated by his cutting of local aid as recently as this month. I didn’t see Romney — or Patrick’s name — in either story. One test of Patrick’s governorship whether he can help bring balance to the state’s revenue structure. Maybe he will embrace the telecom bill, which would end an unfair loophole whereby telecom companies don’t have to pay taxes on the telephone polls they own but the electric companiy does (who knows why? It’s another ancient law.)

On another note, Dot Joyce, formerly of Fox 25, started as Press Secretary this week. She’s got a great quote in today’s Boston Herald about the mayor’s anger at Sony for its self-generated Play Station frenzy. Good luck Dot.

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