Call for big investments, but no new taxes, fees
Boston mayoral candidates differ on fare-free T
THE CANDIDATES for mayor in Boston are calling for major investments in housing, transportation, climate resiliency, schools, and a host of other areas, but they don’t intend to hike taxes or fees of city residents to help pay for these investments.
At a forum on Thursday sponsored by the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, A Better City, and CommonWealth magazine, John Barros and City Councilors Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi-George said they would not raise taxes and fees paid by residents or businesses if they are elected mayor.
“We’ve got to avoid that at all costs,” Essaibi-George said.
Barros, the former director of economic development in Boston under former mayor Marty Walsh, said the priority should be supporting businesses to help them get them back on their feet post-COVID. He noted that COVID cost Boston almost $200 million in hotel tax revenue and the city is also losing money because of declining assessments on commercial real estate.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey did not attend the morning event at Roxbury Community College, which focused primarily on thorny public policy issues where there was generally little disagreement. One area where there was a minor difference of opinion was the MBTA.
Wu recounted her efforts over the past eight years to advocate for more Boston involvement in transit decision-making, including her push for a fare-free MBTA, which she has said would boost ridership, reduce traffic congestion, and help address income inequality. She hailed the recent decision by the city to cover the cost of the Route 28 bus that runs between Mattapan and Ruggles, allowing riders to board for free.
Barros said the focus should be on working with state and federal partners to improve T service, not make it free. “Free MBTA is aspirational. It’s a nice dream,” he said. “It’s $700 million a year in fares that we would have to pay from the city’s budget to try and do that. Its’s 25 percent of the city’s budget that would have to go to make it free. It’s just not feasible. It’s not practical.”
Neither Wu nor anyone else has suggested the city of Boston would have to cover the cost of making the T free. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill who have backed a fare-free T have suggested that would primarily be a state responsibility. The T’s former oversight board, before it disbanded in June, rejected the idea of a fare free MBTA and instead backed a system that would charge full fares to those who can afford them and lower fares for low-income riders.
Campbell said she supports eliminating fares on buses but would not go beyond that. “I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep, especially to communities of color,” she said.The candidates were in agreement that the number of retail marijuana licenses issued in Boston needs to increase. Under state law, the number of marijuana retailers can equal 20 percent of the number of liquor licenses for off-premises consumption.
All four candidates said they favored raising the number to that level, although it was unclear how many that would be. Records of the Cannabis Control Commission don’t specify the upper threshold, but they indicate only four licensees have commenced operations so far while many others are at various stages in the regulatory pipeline.