Can the Bay State think big about the Olympics?

With the Sochi Olympics as a backdrop, the Legislature’s Olympics special commission ponders whether the state’s capital city is up to the challenge of hosting the world’s premier sporting event in 2024.

There are questions of Olympic proportions to consider: What happens to an Olympic village after the athletes go home? Can the MBTA bump up its game in the next decade?   Who is going to pay for it?  Does Massachusetts really want to make a serious bid?

Boston’s historic charm and seaside locale are big selling points, but the hurdles are enormous. The commission has to devise a plan that starts by answering these vexing questions.

Being a man who builds things, Suffolk Construction CEO and commission chair John Fish thinks the city can get the job done. He sees any potential Olympic Village transformed into affordable housing after the Games. Officials at colleges and universities must have perked up as Fish suggested that upgrades to existing athletic facilities could boost Boston’s chances.

If Boston were to make a bid, the Legislature would have to do a massive reordering of state transportation priorities. Billions would have to be pumped into the MBTA and its feeder regional transit authorities to get the metro area transit system up to anything approaching world-class standards. London invested roughly the equivalent of  $11 billion dollars in its transportation infrastructure alone for the 2012 Games, according to a 2013 joint report of the mayor of London and the UK government.

Fish pointed out that public-private partnerships might be one way to handle the costs. Mitt Romney took to the pages of USA Today the same day that the commission met to extol the virtues of the  “P3” model and propose that the International Olympic Committee award the Games only to a country that can demonstrate that it can live within a predetermined budget.

Romney notes that spending big — Russia and China spent $50 billion and London $15 billion — is not necessary. Whether the IOC will jump at a budget mechanism that benefits a US city that doesn’t want to pump too many public dollars into a one-time event is an open question.

The Olympic special commission skirted fears about the price tag by pointing to other strategic considerations, such as the willingness of the city and the state to make a commitment to pursuing a serious bid for the Games. “We’re not getting involved in the cost-benefit analysis of this in great detail,” Fish said, according to a State House News Service report. “We’re talking about the overall structure, potential strategy, and how can we as a community entertain the thought of hosting the 2024 Olympics.”

Cautionary tales are everywhere. Montreal took 30 years to get out from under its 1976 Olympics debt. During the London Olympics, College of the Holy Cross economist Victor Matheson told CNN, “There is very little evidence to suggest hosting the Olympics provides much of an economic benefit.”  British diplomat Susie Kitchens admitted under questioning yesterday that the city may only have broken even in the end.

Given the state’s ongoing financial stresses, can Massachusetts opinion leaders row together to support a Boston Olympics bid? Early indications are that a 2024 is going to be a tough sell.

The MetroWest Daily News noted some skepticism at the commission’s meeting. Rep. Chris Walsh, a Framingham Democrat, said, “Any one of those representatives that are outside of Rte. 128 is going to have the same thought: ‘Why should people spend money on something Boston-centric?’ ” Rep. Matthew Beaton, a Shrewsbury Republican, invoked the specter of the Big Dig, the state’s vision-killing boogeyman.

Olympics supporters argue that, in a small state like Massachusetts, having the capital city host an event like the Summer Olympics would have a multiplier effect across the Commonwealth. And Boston boosters, always looking for opportunities to burnish the city’s “world-class” status, argue that pulling off a successful Olympics would do the trick. They may be convinced, but going after the gold will require statewide buy-in and more than a few billion dollars.

–GABRIELLE GURLEY  

BEACON HILL

The firm responsible for the state’s new $46 million computer software for handling unemployment benefits told a State House hearing yesterday the system still has more than 100 defects seven months after its rollout.

The Gun Owners Action League unloads on the 44 recommendations for gun safety unveiled by a panel appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Attorney General Martha Coakley won’t say whether she thinks Gov. Deval Patrick should oust embattled DCF chief Olga Roche.

Coakley also shows up on the so-called sponsor sheets allegedly used by probation officials to award jobs. As a result, she may be called as a witness in the trial of former Probation commissioner John O’Brien. CommonWealth reported in 2010 that the sheets contain a who’s who of Massachusetts politicians, including folks from all branches of government.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Haverhill City Council extends a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries amid indications that the company that recently won a state license for a dispensary in town did so under false pretenses. According to a story in the Eagle-Tribune, one councilor is saying he was tricked into signing a letter of support for Healthy Pharms Inc. by Mayor James Fiorentini and James Jajuga, a former state senator who until recently worked for Healthy Pharms.

A similar story is emerging in Boston, where an outfit awarded a license for a dispensary on Boylston Street in the Back Bay claimed to have the support of the local city councilor and state reps when it didn’t. (The firm says it mistakenly copied that information from its application for a Worcester site.) Meanwhile, Boston City Councilor Steve Murphy says he was duped into submitting a letter in support of the Boston application — though it’s not really clear what the duping was.

With the year-long moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries that some cities and towns had implemented coming to an end, local officials are grappling with the reality that they have to fashion regulations in case their communities are approved by state officials.

Police find three homeless people sleeping under an overhang of the historic Fitz Henry Lane House in Gloucester and let them stay overnight inside Gloucester District Court temporarily because the local shelter had banned them, the Gloucester Times reports.

Newton is grappling with the trauma of three teenage suicides in the city since October.

The ACLU is defending a North Attleboro high school senior who received detention after using profanity on his personal Twitter account.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’ll sit out South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade if the veterans group that organizes the parade continues its exclusion of gay rights groups. “It’s 2014, it’s time for the parade to be an inclusive parade,” Walsh tells the Herald.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

For the first time in five years, the House passes a clean debt ceiling bill in advance of the deadline. Slate says the era of debt-limit brinksmanship is officially over.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington announces no prisoners will be executed while he is in office, but he declines to commute the sentences of inmates awaiting execution, the Seattle Times reports.

ELECTIONS

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s political action committee raises more than $582,000 in 2013, the Associated Press reports.

The New York Times casts gubernatorial contests in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as previews of the fault lines that will emerge in the 2016 presidential race.

Felix D. Arroyo , the former Boston city councilor and father of a top Marty Walsh aide, is taking a run at embattled Suffolk Register of Probate Patti Campatelli.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

New Fed chair Janet Yellen speaks to Congress — and the market jumps nearly 200 points.

EDUCATION

State officials say Lowell failed to spend the minimum amount required on its schools in fiscal 2013, missing the target by nearly $4 million, the Sun reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Video cameras will be installed on 225 MBTA buses by the end of the summer as part of an effort to improve security.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Footprint Power, seeking to build a natural gas-fired power plant in Salem, and the Conservation Law Foundation, seeking to block the plant’s construction in court, report they are close to reaching a settlement, the Salem News reports.

Massachusetts consumers could pay more than $1 billion in extra utility costs over the next 20 years under a plan being pushed by Patrick administration to increase the use of solar power, reports the Globe.

A minor earthquake centered in Dartmouth shook the New Bedford region yesterday.

A rotor inside a wind turbine on the Lynnway in Lynn cracks, apparently because of the cold, forcing the unit to be shut down for repairs, the Item reports.

Donald Trump loses a bid to block a wind farm near his golf resort in Scotland, the Guardian reports.

Irony alert: A planned public meeting tomorrow in Quincy on the controversial new flood zone maps has been postponed because of the impending winter storm, which could cause flooding in the area at high tide.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Worcester jury begins deliberating in the case of Julie Corey, who is accused of killing another woman and cutting her unborn baby out of her womb. Corey’s attorney, in his closing argument, suggests the dead woman’s boyfriend killed his girlfriend and gave Corey her baby, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

An Easton state representative has filed a bill that would add 10 years onto a sentence of anyone convicted of selling drugs within 300 feet of a substance abuse and addiction treatment facility.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh calls on all first responders to carry the heroin overdose reversal medication called Narcan, the Associated Press reports.

MEDIA

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Brent Benson, in his Mass. Numbers blog, offers a summary and a commentary on a Tuesday night MassINC event on “Big Data.” Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy, who moderated the event, links to the Twitter traffic surrounding the event.

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw is diagnosed with cancer, NECN reports.