March 25, 2003
Governor Romney’s sobering State of the State address in January painted a clear picture of the poor economic condition of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In a nutshell, Massachusetts must reduce its debt, $650 million dollars by the middle of 2003. Only two things can help to accomplish that objective, we can reduce expenses, and/or raise revenue. Tourism could be the lucky charm for Western Massachusetts if only we can get out of our own way.
The governor outlined a plan to reduce the state’s aid to municipalities by $114 million dollars. This means significant cuts to services benefiting people who likely need them the most. This short-term plan may provide a band-aid, but wouldn’t it be prudent to also consider a long-term plan to stimulate the economy of Western MA? The hospitality and tourism industries provide a built in means of sparking economic sustenance, so then, why do we throw up roadblocks and opposition at every turn?
Developers can’t just come into a city and put up hotels, restaurants, grand amusement parks and new halls of fame. They must first jump through every hoop imaginable, no pun intended. From planning and zoning boards, to licensing authorities, to conservation commissions, to overcoming local citizens’ opposition, at every turn developers must fight local politics and well-intended neighbors. It is certainly arguable that not all development is good, but why must it be so difficult and time consuming to push forward a project that will ultimately contribute to the overall good of the community?
All communities in Western Massachusetts have similar bylaws which govern and promote development. Their general intention is to promote the health, safety, convenience and general welfare of its present and future inhabitants. Additionally they seek to protect natural resources, lessen street congestion, promote public services, conserve the value of land and buildings and to promote amenities. And finally, they strive to provide for a suitable expansion of economically and environmentally sound business and industry within the community, to diversify the local economy and the tax base. These tenants are honorable and valid, however, sometimes people use them as a shield to protect their own interests, and that may not necessarily comply with the overall general welfare of the community as a whole.
Every employed resident or homeowner in Western Massachusetts believes that they pay too much tax. Reconciling this belief with the state’s need for increased revenue is challenging. The money simply must come from somewhere. Hospitality and tourism could provide desperately needed tax relief to already overburdened families. Since businesses pay their fair share of taxes, it is reasonable to assume that new businesses and increasingly successful existing businesses will contribute significantly to the state’s bottom line.
Take the example of casino gambling. There is a valid argument in support of it as well as for opposition, and this hot-button topic causes many heated debates. The fact of the matter though is that it is likely an inevitable necessary evil. Too much money is consistently lost across our southern boarder, and the demand is just too great for Massachusetts to continue to ignore it indefinitely.
Consider also the attempt to bring a top notch NHRA drag racing facility to Warren about ten years ago. This facility would have brought scores of families into the local community every weekend from May through October, and an annual national event would have packed hotels and restaurants throughout a fifty to sixty mile radius. In addition, it would have created such an increased demand that the MA Pike would have likely been forced to build a desperately needed exit at the mid point between the Palmer and Sturbridge exits. This business would have contributed dramatically to the tax base in Western Massachusetts.
Another example is the high-speed bullet train between Springfield and Boston that has been kicked around for many years. Never mind the boom in potential visitors to the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial, the Quadrangle, and Six Flags. Consider the ramifications if it was possible to live in Western MA and commute forty minutes to a job in Boston. How many people would leave the metropolitan Boston area and retreat to the quiet communities of Western MA? More residents means more tax money contributing to local services, and more affluent residents would build larger homes, further contributing to local revenues. Yet we consistently resist the proposed train, to a chorus of, "Not in My Backyard."
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in very bad financial shape, and the reduction of state aid to municipalities results in the reduction of services that benefit their most needy residents. Cooperation between developers and municipalities may provide a much-needed alternative to the budget crisis by bringing increased money into our communities through the hospitality and tourism industries. This long-term plan may help prevent a future economic crisis and stabilize the local tax base, but it can only happen if we put aside our politics and selfish interests and work together. Western Massachusetts could be a pot of gold if only we become smart enough to get out of our own way.
Kenneth J. Albano, Esquire
by: Kenneth J. Albano, Esquire
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