Boston Real Estate for Sale

My final post (I promise) on The Boston Foundation’s newly released report, “Boston Bound”, references an opinion piece in today’s Globe, written by two of the study’s authors.

Not only does Boston rely on the state to approve any new taxes, it must ask for the state to okay just about everything we do.

Besides taxing authority, the restrictions range from the absurd (the state decides the city towing fee) to the surprising (the state Legislature might have to approve a plan to move City Hall) to the serious (the state lets the city create business improvement districts but on terms that, as a practical matter, ensure they won’t be established). No other city is as comprehensively restricted as Boston, and some, like Chicago, enjoy freedom on an entirely different scale.

Plus, we don’t have control over so much that happens within our own city’s borders.

State agencies — Massport, the Turnpike Authority, the Convention Center Authority — have considerable control over important aspects of city policy because they control so many of the physical assets within the city limits.

Other cities have a much greater say about their own future because the mayor appoints more of the members of these entities, or because the city owns the underlying properties. In fact, unlike San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago, Boston does not own its airport, even though it’s located much closer to downtown.

One final point discussed in the report:

[M]ore than 50% of Boston’s land area is exempt from property taxes …

The largest percentage of exempt land, encompassing more than 26% of the total landmass of Boston, is exempt because the property is owned by the state.

The second largest owner of tax-exempt property is the city itself (14% of all the property in Boston), almost half of which is parkland and other open space.

Popular conceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, colleges and hospitals account for only 2% of total tax-exempt land in Boston.

Other tax-exempt institutions, such as cemeteries, museums and charitable organizations, account for 8%.

Politicians (and some landowners) love picking on the colleges, saying they are bad neighbors (debatable) and they don’t pull their own weight by paying property taxes (or what are known as “PILOTS” – payments in lieu of taxes).

The reality is, they don’t pay much because they don’t own much.

It’s the wrong punching bag.

Let’s start picking on the state, instead.

City Limits – By David J. Barron and Gerald E. Frug, The Boston Foundation, in the Boston Globe

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Updated: 1st Quarter 2018

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