So now it’s Governor Charlie Baker’s turn to decide if the benefits of hosting the 2024 summer Olympics outweigh the risk to taxpayers. And whether those alleged benefits dovetail sweetly enough with his own agenda.
When Baker took office on Jan. 8, he told Massachusetts that his immediate priorities were to deal with a looming budget deficit, build a job-creating economy, close the achievement gap, confront opiate addiction, and revitalize urban centers.
That same day, Boston was chosen to represent the United States in its bid to host the 2024 Olympic games. Controversy has swirled ever since over how much the honor of hosting the games might end up costing taxpayers. To address it, Boston 2024 on Monday submitted what it calls “Bid 2.0” — what Steve Pagliuca, the group’s chairman, describes as a “fact-based, forward-looking plan to deliver privately financed, risk-managed Games.”
Of course, risk-managed does not mean risk-free. And there’s the rub for Baker, who also noted in his inaugural address that he was inheriting a half-billion-dollar budget deficit. “If we’re honest with ourselves, then we can’t blame our deficit on a lack of revenue. We have to recognize that this is a spending problem,” he declared, as he pledged to end it.
Getting the Baker seal of approval for an Olympics that was forced to grow its venues beyond Boston is essential for Boston 2024. But awarding it could put stress on Baker’s inaugural vows. At the governor’s request, the Brattle Group, an independent consulting firm, will be crunching Boston 2024 numbers to see just how comfortable Baker can get with them.
At a meeting Monday with Globe reporters, columnists, and editors, Pagliuca said Baker told him, “I’m a data-driven person.” When he reviews the latest data, Pagliuca said he hopes Baker concludes that Boston 2024 has “mitigated a lot of the risks,” allowing the governor to embrace the benefits.
That will take trust — trust that total revenues are what Boston 2024 projects, about $5 billion — and that total costs will come in just under that. There will be insurance and surety bonds behind the bid, said Pagliuca, with details yet to be worked out.
The promises are as alluring as ever. Bringing the games to Boston will supposedly create 4,100 construction jobs from 2013 to 2023 and more than 50,000 jobs in 2024. The tax base at Widett Circle — where Boston 2024 wants to locate an Olympic stadium and some housing — currently generates $857,000 per year. That would jump to $7 million by 2030 and $27 million by 2040. There would be 4,000 additional apartment units built at Widett Circle and another 3,000 at Columbia Point. Boston 2024 anticipates major road and mass transit improvements that would be part of the expense the public is expected to embrace.
Land acquisition is built into the overall cost, and most likely includes some kind of tax break package for whoever wins the rights to develop Widett Circle. According to Boston 2024, Mayor Marty Walsh is conceptually on board. If a developer decides tax benefits were unnecessary, that would be fine, said Pagliuca. Of course, a miracle like that hasn’t happened seen since the one that occurred on ice during the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid.
The underpinning of Boston 2024’s case is essentially a guilt trip, the argument that the riskiest move of all is to let opportunity slip away.
But it all depends on the meaning of opportunity, and who really gets it.
As Baker said when he took office, “We must have the dedication to serve the best interest of the public and only the public.”
It’s your call, Governor.