Mayoral candidates cry foul over proposed meals tax increase

By 
Gintautas Dumcius and Mike Deehan, Reporter Staff
Jul. 30, 2009

Mayor Thomas Menino is calling for higher lodging and meals taxes this week with a proposal submitted to the Boston City Council, ensuring a tax vote for the 13-member panel in a municipal election year.

If the proposal is passed, it would take effect on October 1.

The mayor told the State House News Service that he didn’t plan to earmark the anticipated revenues on particular spending areas, but noted the monies could pay for police forces presently funded by a “competitive” federal grant.

Menino wants a bump in the capital’s meals tax to 7 percent and a lodging tax hike to 14.45 percent, according to the wire service.

Michael Flaherty’s mayoral campaign took a swing at Menino over the issue in a statement declaring Flaherty’s opposition to Menino’s plan. Flaherty, a city councillor at-large, said that Menino “has failed to effectively manage the city’s revenue and spending.”

“This administration has not even begun to scratch the surface of the inefficiencies that have bankrupted our local government,” asserted Flaherty. “Instead of taking a hard look at where he can consolidate or eliminate programs and cut costs such as high-paid consultants, this mayor looks for the fastest way he can get a bailout.”

Flaherty said he supports a system to gauge city efficiency and streamline the city’s spending. He says that managerial changes must be made before Boston’s visitors and diners are taxed more heavily.

Fellow mayoral candidate and City Councillor At-Large Sam Yoon told the Reporter he supported the city having the option of raising meals and lodging taxes, but added that city officials should first focus on weeding out waste.

“That is something we ought to do before we chase new revenue,” he said.

South End businessman Kevin McCrea, who is also running for mayor, wrote on his blog that he also opposes the tax increase. “As I have said many times before, the city is not in a fiscal crisis, just a crisis of management. I am opposed to the meals tax increase that the mayor is proposing. If, unfortunately, the tax increase is passed remember that the mayor promised to have it offset the residential property tax. If he doesn’t include that in his legislation, you will see yet another example of him saying one thing and doing another.”

Menino takes itto the streets – Quincy Street, that is

If you saw Mayor Menino on Quincy St. last Thursday, you can thank one local homeowner who called into TOUCH 106.1 FM to complain about the unkemptness of the Quincy Street area in Dorchester, close to the proposed Columbia Road commuter rail station.

Describing herself as a “big fan” of the mayor and a new homeowner, the woman said she had complained about the trash to City Hall officials but nobody would get back to her.

“It got to the point where I end up cleaning up the trash myself. I shouldn’t have to do that,” she said. “There’s grass growing, there’s bushes out of control. There’s a lot of empty buildings on Quincy Street…that are boarded up, with your name plastered all over the place... These properties are not being looked after. The lawns are not being mowed, the trash isn’t being picked up.”

Menino, who was on the program for a half-hour fielding questions, pledged to head over to the area after his radio appearance ended and to get back to Charles Clemons, co-owner of the radio station, about the issue.

“I get concerned when residents tell me there’s trash on the street,” Menino said, while adding that some of the property is owned by the state because of the commuter rail station construction. “I think we’re doing a better job. Can we do better? Yes, we can.”

Asked by one of the TOUCH hosts about the $200,000 loan to the cash-strapped Bay State Banner, Menino defended his offer to the paper, which has often been critical of him, and engaged in some media criticism.

“People say, you know, the mayor’s trying to curry favor with the ownership. Well, the ownership has not been my friend,” Menino said. “But I think it’s important that we have a newspaper in the community that talks about the good things that are happening, because you usually don’t read about the good things happening in the community. You hear all the bad things. When somebody gets shot, that’s the first thing you hear.”

Another caller, “Carol from Dorchester,” called in to complain about FOX25 because they did not carry President Barack Obama’s recent speech. She also said that people on the station criticized Obama for commenting on the uproar over a Cambridge police officer’s arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.

“I’d like to ask the mayor why Channel 25 is such a racist station. How come every time they have something bad to say about the mayor or President Obama?” she said. “A lot of people need to stop watching the Channel 25 news because of the things they be saying. A lot of people don’t notice what’s going on. But I do.”

Menino said he didn’t believe FOX25 was racist. “I mean, they might be outrageous at times,” he said. “I mean, I read some of the papers, they’re outrageous also at times. They want people to read the paper, watch [the news]. Sometimes they make those statements which I don’t approve of either. We have to make sure we all work together.”

Flaherty launches new website: “Dollars and $ense”

Flaherty has launched a new website on hitting Mayor Thomas Menino over city spending. Savingmoneyforboston.com features a new flyer Flaherty volunteers are distributing this weekend: One side, titled “Dollars,” says Menino has spent $416 million on personnel, including pay raises, new hires and overtime. The other, titled “$ense,” features a photo of Flaherty pledging “real savings and better government.”

A calculator at the top of the website says Menino spent $1 million on a social networking site. The charge is based on an October 2008 story in the Globe.

The other two mayoral candidates, City Councillor At-Large Yoon and South End businessman McCrea, have also touted available savings in City Hall.

Menino’s website hails a “fiscally sound” Boston: “To increase accountability and transparency, he has implemented new systems to handle constituent service requests quickly and to track city performance and budget information on-line.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out daily updates on Boston elections at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.