Newton’s elected officials and many new city council candidates have proposed an ambitious progressive agenda to create more affordable and workforce housing, go carbon neutral by 2050 (or sooner), improve transportation, add to open space, build a world class senior center, improve services for the disabled, pay down our unfunded OPEB liabilities and keep our education system and other public services top-flight. Many, if not most, of these agenda items will require more tax revenues than we have now. How will we do that?
There are 4 main budget-positive tax sources that all come with trade-offs:
- Super-Luxury housing: The biggest residential tax revenues with the lowest need for services come from ultra-high-end construction, where there is also great demand. However, as discussed in my previous column, the city’s zoning re-design plan proposes to prohibit the construction of large high-end homes in the name of reducing tear-downs and environmental impact (with a little anti-elitism thrown in).
- Commercial/Office Development: By prioritizing housing over commercial (Northland and much of Washington St.) and NIMBYism on developments with some commercial (Riverside), Newton has essentially ceded the demand for office space to Waltham. We share in the highway traffic woes, but they get all the tax revenue. Will we ever develop a viable strategy for commercial development?
- Marijuana retail: We’ve decided to develop this revenue stream but nobody really wants a store in their neighborhood, promoting more sales in bigger mega-stores brings significant social, health and safety costs, and half the tax stream is restricted by law to mitigating the effects of marijuana stores instead of going into the general fund.
- Override: If we don’t choose to maximize any of the above revenue streams, this leaves increasing taxes on residents through an override.
Bill Humphrey and Matthew Miller are candidates who have been upfront in saying they would consider a tax override. What about the other candidates? Should we re-consider our plans for any of these revenue streams or cut back on some of our progressive ambitions? Any other ideas on where to get taxes that are budget-positive (i.e. don’t require more in services than they bring in revenue) and politically feasible?