Unlike most cities today, Boston is restricted by its state’s constitution, both limiting the ways their city is able to spend their money, and how they are able to collect from their citizens. The constitution of each state and the decisions of their state Supreme Court control how money can be collected and spent. Boston does not receive money from sales, income or occupations taxes. In a city like Chicago, the Illinois constitution and the interpretation by the Illinois Supreme Court has allowed the city to take control of municipal elections, taxing, borrowing, and regulation of civil affairs. This means that Chicago has more freedom to take care of their civilians.
This lack of home rule and independence from Massachusetts has significant effects on Boston and is a great example of the effects of ‘dual-federalism’. Since the city does not have the authority to create new taxes and forms of revenue, they have to completely rely on taxes the state approve of. The majority of Boston’s revenue is from property taxes, whereas other cities can rely on taxes from other sources. Because Boston receives so little from taxes they are very reliant on State Aid, which comes in structured packages for specific duties. This rigid structure prevents Boston from freely expanding and caring for their people as they see fit. Most money is siphoned into necessary expenses like education, health and infrastructure.
The rules imposed by the state has also shaped what type of businesses have settled in Boston. The hotel tax caused a huge hotel boom in Boston, and encouraged the city to increase tourism. However because of this lack of diversity in taxes, the economy is lopsided, and the city is focused on this single form of revenue.
Because of this, Boston is not developing in a balanced way that will help the city in the long term. The city is in such a dire financial situation that they are desperate for money and completely reliant on the State’s money, and with that, their influence. This shows how the structure of ‘dual-federalism’ is not serving Boston well. The state government is unable to create balanced and consistent growth in the city.
Another unusual restriction in Boston, due to the state, is the difficult process to create a Business Improvement District. Many cities use these to tax businesses in a specific area in order to spend the money in that area to create more traffic to the businesses. This seems like a great way to encourage development in downtown areas. Massachusetts has made this nearly impossible by requiring a unanimous vote in the area. This is another state imposed obstacle making it more difficult for Boston to become more independent.Boston is a great example of the complications that ‘dual-federalism’ can bring.
A state is too big to be able to adequately collect from and care from many cities towns and municipalities. Urban areas have issues and complications that need oversight from a flexible local government. Cities need to be thinking for themselves.
A restricted city will never be able to compete with cities that have the freedom to tax and spend how they wish. Unrestricted cities are able to develop faster and easier due to their lack of regulations both in taxing and spending. Though we don’t think about it, cities are consistently doing everything they can to encourage more people to visit or move there. The power Massachusetts has over Boston, handicaps the city’s ability to woo prospective citizens.
The state government will always be looking out for the states best interests before attempting to make a city better. Most cities have the luxury of thinking purely in terms of their own needs. If Boston had more power, they would be able to do much more to help their city. Giving more power to local governments will provide them the freedom to solve the problems that they find important. The best people to take care of a city are the people who live there.