secretary of state William Galvin is starting to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding his management of the state’s historic rehabilitation tax credit program, which provides financial incentives for developers to restore historic buildings.
Galvin recently posted on his state website the names of companies and projects receiving tax credit awards during the latest round of the $50 million-a-year program. Previously, he had informed winners in writing if they were awarded tax credits, but released no information to the public.
The tax credit initiative has been the focus of several articles in CommonWealth magazine, which obtained data on the program by filing public records requests with its administrator, the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The commission reports to Galvin, who is the state’s chief public information officer and oversees the state’s public records law.
Galvin’s spokesman, in a terse email, offered little insight on why the information was now being posted. “Another way of making the information available,” wrote Brian McNiff.
“It’s good to see that the latest round is on the website,” says James Igoe, president of Preservation Massachusetts, a nonprofit group that pushed for the creation of the historic rehabilitation tax credit. “Hopefully, future rounds will be reported in similar fashion.”
Before Galvin began posting his tax credit awards online, Preservation Massachusetts regularly polled its members to find out whether they had received any credits or not. The organization shared the information it gathered with members and also used it to lobby for the tax credit on Beacon Hill.
The shift by Galvin comes at a time when pressure is building on Beacon Hill to make the awarding of state tax credits a more transparent process. In his budget proposal, Gov. Deval Patrick called for agencies issuing tax credits to detail who is receiving them and the number and pay of jobs they are generating.
A similar measure nearly became law last year, but stalled when Patrick balked at a Senate provision that would have kept the names of tax credit recipients confidential.
Right now there is little rhyme or reason to the way state agencies handle tax credits. Movie producers, for example, receive film tax credits equal to 25 percent of whatever they spend shooting movies in Massachusetts. The Department of Revenue, which hands out the tax credits, considers the names of recipients confidential.
By contrast, the Massachusetts Life Science Center goes through a public process in awarding tax credits. Its board makes awards to specific companies at a public meeting and spells out how many jobs the recipient will be required to generate. If the company fails to meet its jobs goal, the Life Sciences Center reserves the right to recover its money.
CommonWealth reported in its Summer 2008 issue that Galvin was running the historic rehabilitation tax credit program like a personal fiefdom, deciding which developers would receive tax credits using a secretive selection process that created uncertainty for developers and maximized his political clout.
A breakdown of tax credit awards obtained through a public records request showed that the most tax credits have gone to the Boston Red Sox for the renovation and restoration of Fenway Park. According to the records, the Sox have received $15.85 million in historic rehabilitation tax credits and are still seeking millions more. The second-biggest recipient was the Liberty Hotel, which received a total of $9.1 million in tax credits.
During the last two rounds of tax credit awards, the Sox received nothing. Red Sox spokeswoman Susan Goodenow says the club remains interested in obtaining historic rehabilitation tax credits. “We have applied for them and we’re going to keep applying,” she says.
During the most recent round of tax credit awards in December, Galvin handed out a total of 49, most of them for $500,000. The largest award, for $600,000, went to Stratford Capital Group LLC for a project in Athol.
Despite the tough economy and developers clamoring for financial help, records obtained through a Public Records Act request show Galvin did not give out the entire $50 million in tax credits last year; he carried $5.5 million over into this year.