New hope for Hub: when Flynn speaks, at least state lawmakers listen

New England Supplement One man at bat does not a ball game make, especially on the Massachusetts lawmaking field.

Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, his teammates, and his political fans must be disappointed with the mayor's first trip from the city executive bench to state lawmaking plate. His deft attempt to push through legislation that would allow Massachusetts communities to impose a 15 percent parking excise tax made it difficult for opponents to knock down the proposal. But that they did.

The levy, which could have helped Boston raise an additional $10 million a year, failed to clear the House last Friday. Even so, Mayor Flynn found more sympathy for his city's fiscal plight than had his predecessor, Kevin H. White.

While Mayor White did not always come away from Beacon Hill empty-handed, his clout in the state lawmaking league was feeble and he usually struck out. Part of the reason was that White relied on others to do his bidding. Despite the best intentions of these mayoral hirelings and personal friends, their efforts did not yield impressive results.

For reasons known best to himself, Mayor White, who lived on Beacon Hill and spent many hours in the Parkman House two doors from the State House, was an infrequent visitor to legislative corridors - even during the crucial hours when measures affecting Boston were coming up for debate.

Certainly White was no stranger to state legislators. His problem, particularly during his final years in office, may have been that he was too well known (and perhaps less than respected) for his fiscal management of the city - especially among legislators who represent towns outside Boston.

By contrast, Mayor Flynn in recent weeks has become almost as visible at the State House as he was during his four terms as a state representative. By holding quiet conversations with more than 100 state representatives from all parts of the commonwealth, Mayor Flynn almost convinced the majority that a parking excise tax not only would provide financial relief for Boston but could also help other revenue-thin communities. The bill, it should be noted, was simply local-option legislation, requiring no city or town to do anything.

Everyone knew, however, that Flynn intended to push for a parking excise for Boston if the measure had passed. The Boston City Council would have had to approve the imposition of such a levy and its rate, which could be up to 15 percent. (For instance, someone who pays $10 a day to park in Boston could have paid as much as $1.50 extra.) City or town governments elsewhere in the commonwealth would also have to give their assent before a parking excise tax could be imposed in their communities.

If enacted, the law would have restricted Boston and other communities to imposing such a levy on off-street commercial parking and employer-provided garages and lots. Residential parking was specifically excluded from coverage of the proposed enabling act.

To what extent other communities would have resorted to such a levy is uncertain. The legislation, even though it was rejected, serves as a reminder of the limited authority of Bay State municipalities to raise revenues. Revenue from the all-too-familiar property tax, a major source of income for communities , has been diminished through Proposition 21/2.

State lawmakers, recognizing the plight of many communities, have increased allocations of local aid from the state in each of the past several years. But this has not made up for funds lost through implementation of Proposition 21/2. Boston, for example, has less to spend than it did before Proposition 21/2, even with more dollars provided by the commonwealth, as Flynn pointed out during his shirt-sleeve chats with state representatives.

He and others who backed the legislation emphasized that, in most other states, communities rely less heavily on the property tax because other ways to raise revenue are allowed. In Massachusetts, only the legislature can grant taxing authority to cities and towns.

The excise tax on parking was potentially a self-help measure. Getting individual lawmakers to understand that was not the problem. The big challenge for Mayor Flynn and others who support the proposal - such as House Speaker Thomas W. McGee (D) of Lynn, Senate President William M. Bulger (D) of Boston, and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) - was to convince wary legislators that money raised through a parking excise tax would not be frittered away on patronage and bloated budgets of nonessential municipal programs.

Mayor Flynn has yet to prove, at least to the satisfaction of some legislative skeptics, that he is a prudent fiscal manager.

Perhaps an even greater hurdle was getting lawmakers - especially those with many constituents who drive into the city to work and shop - to go along with a measure that would cost more for those they represent. And the fast-approaching legislative elections - in which some House members are facing stiff opposition - made a ''yes'' vote on the measure even more improbable. Voting for new taxes is considered politically risky under these circumstances.

Despite these obstacles, which were enough to derail the measure, several promising signs emerged during the debate. For one, a spirit of unity within the Boston delegation at the House contributed to the backing for proposal. For another, the Hub legislators worked out a friendly trade-off arrangement with state lawmakers from other parts of the state, many of whose ''yes'' votes might have been beyond reach without it.

In effect, the compromise involved the support of Hub legislators for a $17 million special local-aid package for communities located outside the parks and sewer districts served by the Metropolitan District Commission. A number of state representatives, many from the western part of the state, recognized their communities would benefit from the extra funding included in a fiscal 1984 supplementary budget. In exchange, they went along with the parking-excise, local-option measure being pushed by Flynn.

This give-and-take arrangement would have been all but impossible if Mayor White were still at the Hub's municipal helm. He could seldom muster up solidarity within the city's legislative delegation.

Although Flynn's lobbying effort fell a few votes short in the end, the mayor displayed a familiarity with state legislators' concerns that tax-raising proposals are unlikely to win popularity contests back in the home district.

For this reason the mayor, as a former House member, did not employ strong-arm political tactics to win needed votes. Rather, his approach to individual state representatives was one of both respect and sensitivity.

Clearly Mayor Flynn did everything he could to gain passage of the parking excise tax. Despite the setback, he came much closer to pushing the measure through the legislature than did his predecessor. Mayor White twice came forth with such proposals, but never even got up to bat.

After all his hard work explaining and cajoling, and despite his disappointment, Flynn has not lashed out against lawmakers who failed to support his measure.

Instead, the mayor's strategy is to return to the drawing board. There, he hopes to revise the defeated legislation or else devise a different plan that could raise the funds he needs to run the city. Any new move, however, probably will not come until after the Sept. 18 legislative primary, when those state representatives who now face tough challenges may feel a bit freer to go along with something that could cost some of their constituents a bit more.

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