Wu pushes property tax proposal, says she has hope in Legislature

Local News

The proposal was approved by the City Council despite vocal opposition. Mayor Michelle Wu now needs the support of lawmakers on Beacon Hill.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. Mary Schwalm/AP

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu defended her push to give the city the power to temporarily increase the commercial property tax rate Tuesday, saying that the idea is widely supported and expressing hope that state lawmakers will agree.

“My job is to be clear about what the city needs and then to do everything possible in my power to make it happen,” Wu said during an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”

In this case, Wu made those intentions clear back in April when she filed a home rule petition regarding the shift. Residential property owners are facing the potential of “dramatic” increases to their property taxes due to declining commercial values. The solution, Wu argued, is a five-year plan allowing for an increase of the commercial tax property rate by up to 200% in the first year followed by gradual decreases before a return to the current parameters.

Residential property owners would still see tax increases, but the goal is to give them a soft landing, according to Wu and members of her administration who were invited to speak to the City Council in recent weeks.

There has been fierce opposition from real estate and development groups, who argue that the plan would harm small businesses and an industry facing its own set of massive challenges. Opponents say that office buildings could be assessed at lower values, leaving the city with less tax revenue. Councilor Ed Flynn, who voted against the measure, has warned of the potential for an “urban doom loop,” where cuts to city services would decrease Boston’s desirability and further drive down property values.

Despite the pushback, the measure was approved by the Boston City Council last week in an 8-4 vote. Now, Wu needs to win over members of the Legislature. The proposal’s prospects on Beacon Hill are murky, and Wu has yet to present data and advocate for the plan at the State House, she said.

“I haven’t given up on the Legislature,” Wu said on GBH.

She framed the way her administration is pursuing this as “unorthodox” in its proactivity. Officials will not know until later this year whether commercial property values have dropped enough to trigger the need for the change.

“Things often happen at the moment of extreme urgency,” Wu said. “We are, unusually, going up for this authority before the potential emergency.”

The mayor echoed what many of her allies on the City Council said last week, saying it is important to give the city a “tool” that can be deployed if needed.

“If things go well, we wouldn’t need this at all,” she said.

Wu also said she was “irked” by some media coverage of the topic that framed it as a “controversial” proposal. She said she expected public outcry from lobbyists, but that that does not reflect widespread disagreement. 

“In fact, it was not controversial at all, in any of the neighborhoods or any of the spaces I talked about,” she said. “There are people whose job it is to lobby for as low corporate taxes as possible. That is how they feed their own families. That is what they are always going to push for, no matter what the impact is of that policy on people besides the companies that they represent.”

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