By Eliza Rosenberry
State Representative Thomas Stanley (D) appeared May 25 before the Hanscom Area Towns Committee (HATS) to discuss effects of state policy on local governments, including community preservation funding, legalized marijuana, traffic, and lower-than-projected state revenue.
“I think it’s something to worry about a great deal,” Rep. Stanley said of the lower state revenue. He suggested that, as indicators point to a healthy Massachusetts economy, many people may be holding off on paying projected state taxes while they wait to see what the new Trump administration’s tax overhaul includes. And, he added, depending on what happens at the federal level with changes to healthcare and tax reform, state governments could be on the hook for a lot
Rep. Stanley represents Lincoln and parts of Waltham.
Concord Select Board member Steven Ng inquired about the process for recreational medical marijuana retail sales, specifically as a form of revenue for the state. Ng said Concord has voted in a moratorium and that many other towns are passing bans on retail sales.
“I don’t think anyone really expected the bill [legalizing marijuana] to pass at this time last year,” Rep. Stanley said. He said there is a lot of public pressure to ensure the will of state voters is enacted, and advocacy from the liquor industry to ensure that marijuana will be taxed in the same way as alcohol. It’s not yet clear how that tax revenue would be allocated. Bedford has not voted on how to handle recreational marijuana sales in town, but a majority of voters did not support legalization and voted “no” on the ballot question last year.
Stanley also reported a lot of interest in taxing short term stay services like Airbnb, which could provide another source of revenue from the state.
HATS members expressed interest in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, from which Bedford has benefitted since 2002, including the restorations of Depot Park and Old Town Hall. State matching funds have become harder to come by as more cities and towns join the program. Rep. Stanley said he is co-sponsoring a bill that would increase state funding for the CPA, and that there is “a good chance” it will pass.
“Virtually the only initiatives that you can take anymore for public projects that are not essential, like schools and roads, are through CPA,” noted Rosenberg. “It gives you that flexibility.”
All towns also acknowledged regional traffic problems. Stanley said that developer Boston Properties could spend tens of millions of dollars for traffic improvements along Route 128 because they own much of the property along the highway. After years of lobbying for changes along the corridor, Stanley said, the company is willing to fund improvements themselves — potentially adding two new exits to alleviate traffic around Totten Pond Road.
“It’s worth it to them financially to donate money that I’ve never seen before — unheard of — to make improvements, because traffic is so bad,” Stanley said.
HATS is made up of representatives from Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln.