Sean Ryan attended the Candidate Forum that took place on Wednesday, July 29, 2009.
Sean Ryan’s Questionnaire and Introductory Remarks with the JP Progressives
150 word maximum, no minimum. We will publish your answers in their entirety in the web version of this Candidate Survey. In the printed version, we reserve the right to edit for length, but not for meaning or intent.
There is limited space available for development in Boston. Given that, what sort of development should be prioritized, and how will you ensure that this development addresses pressing unmet needs, including affordable and low-income housing?
It is not the proper role of government to prioritize certain kinds of development. Government should not direct, subsidize, own, or administer housing. Whenever politicians try to solve the housing problem, they fail – because the only thing they can do is distort the market through various price controls and wealth redistribution measures. I agree – housing prices are too high. But the solution is not the use of force. The only way lastingly to lower the price of a good is either to increase the supply or to decrease the demand. The supply of units in Boston is artificially restricted due to archaic zoning regulations, restrictions on unit density, and a politicized development process (thanks to the BRA). We need to reject the idea of “public” housing, abolish the BRA, write sensible laws to protect the legitimate private property-based interests of abutters, and let the voluntary sector serve our needs as consumers of housing.
When it comes to development in Jamaica Plain specifically, what are your top three priorities?
As I said in #1, politicians should not have priorities as to what sorts of development should or should not occur – in a free society, it is only the people’s priorities that matter. I certainly wish that Jackson Square were a vibrant commercial intersection, seeing as it is accessible by T and is at the crossroads between two neighborhoods – but my view is that the best way to see development happen is to sell off all the government-owned or controlled land in the area, and let the market find uses that cater to the demands of consumers. If a developer determined that demand in that location made profitable a slim, 30-story rental apartment tower, where many younger folks could live more cheaply than in the downtown neighborhoods, then I would not be inclined to oppose it. Cities are supposed to grow – and the market is a better “planner” than any politician.
Environment and Energy
If you are elected, what are three specific actions you would propose for the City of Boston to promote energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and improve the local environment?
If it is cost-efficient (i.e. profitable, and therefore not requiring additional taxes), there is no reason why the city cannot at least make energy-saving upgrades to government-owned property. This could include building modernization and vehicle-sharing, or the use of alternative energy sources such as strategically placed wind turbines. All cost savings resulting from energy efficiency should be passed on to Boston residents through lowered taxes. Only proven technologies should be used – the city government should not be involved in the sort of speculative central planning that the Feds are currently engaged in. In the past, massive government efforts to solve society’s problems have usually not worked, and in many cases have had unintended negative consequences as well.
- Given the resurgence of youth violence in the city, what specific steps would you take to ensure the safety of youth in our city?
- What is your positive vision for youth in the City of Boston, and what do we need to do to get there?
Inner city violence can often be linked to drug activity. I advocate for an end to the “war on drugs,” for the decriminalization of recreational drugs like marijuana, and for a focus on treatment of addiction, rather than incarceration of non-violent offenders. Just as prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s led to a marked rise in organized crime and violence, drug prohibition creates urban black market activity in which property disputes are settled by force, instead of by recourse to an arbitrator, the courts. Ceasing to enforce laws against private, non-violent activities will allow the police to focus on violent crime, and to spend more time walking beats and interacting with the community. As city councilor, I will hold hearings in all 11 police districts to bring together community leaders and police, so they can educate each other on actions that need to be taken to tamp down on violence.
What are the top three specific improvements you would suggest to improve accountability and transparency in city government?
I want to see all municipal expenses and salaries posted online, in an easily accessible, searchable, and downloadable format. I want every service-related request or phone call made to city hall to be given a unique ID number, and for the records of these requests to be made available in searchable format to public, with information on the nature of the request/complaint and the names of all municipal employees involved in handling it. I would like all city workers who carry communications equipment (such a DPW workers, for example) to be locatable in real-time through GPS technology, and for the public to be able to see, via the city website, the physical location of these workers, as well as their task assignment. The government works for us, after all!
- There will be a debate in Boston over the next few years about whether and how to revise the school’s transportation plan. What will be your priorities when approaching this topic?
- What do you believe are the primary causes of the achievement gap in the Boston Public School system, and what is your plan for closing this gap?
- What specific actions would you take to improve the failing schools in Boston?
My priorities are to increase the variety and quality of educational options offered to parents – by lifting the cap on charter schools; and through the eventual introduction of a program of education credits under which parents have direct control over the money the city has allotted to their child. The amount of the credit would be determined by the per capita average spent on each child, according to the type of school (meaning that the credit would be higher for special needs children). Under this system, which has been tested successfully in countries such as Denmark, parents would be free to “opt out” of the system and bring their money to schools not controlled by the city. In this way, the city will have to compete for our business; innovation will be allowed to flourish; and failing schools will simply fail, while schools with proven performance will expand and take their place.
Boston’s Human Service and Public Health agencies are struggling with rising costs and shrinking budgets. If you could put $10 million just into those agencies, how would you invest it?
This question falls outside my area of knowledge and expertise. Moreover, the City of Boston will not have the money with which to expand ANY services in the near future – so hypothetical thought exercises such as this one will probably have to wait for several years, at least. As the recession worsens, tax revenues will continue to fall, and we will have to do more with less money, both as individuals and as a community.
State level transportation agencies have been reformed and combined, but still carry some of the highest debt load of any transportation system in the country. In light of this, if elected what would your priorities be for improving the overall transportation system in Boston?
The MBTA is a government monopoly coordinating all mass transit in the Boston area. Since monopolies, like governments, operate with little or no competition, they have little incentive to be responsive to the consumer. Since the MBTA transportation monopoly receives over $750,000 each year out of state sales tax revenues, it is also able to operate continuously at a loss. Providing services at a loss is not a great long-term strategy – just ask our state government, which can’t pay its bills; or the Feds, who borrow and print money like there’s no tomorrow. Improved efficiency is really another way of saying improved profitability – the T needs to operate like a business, and pay its expenses out of the voluntary payments of riders. This will ensure that the T responds to the needs of those who consume their services.
Jobs and Labor
Most job growth in Metro Boston has occurred in Boston suburbs, while minority populations have been growing in the central city. Black and Latino residents have faced unemployment rates 3 times the rate of white residents, and Asian residents twice that of whites. What single policy would you support that would have the greatest impact on unemployment and job disparities in Boston?
I do not think there is a single solution to this problem. It is not government’s proper role to engage in social engineering or economic planning. When governments allocate money in order to “create” jobs for some people, they inevitably redirect money away from some other part or the economy, and thus merely redistribute employment, rather than increasing it. The most equitable system of economic organization, and the one that results in the largest and most rapid rise in the overall standard of living (for people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds), is capitalism. In order for capitalism to work, however, government interference must be kept to a minimum. If we want more jobs in the Boston area, we need lower taxes, sensible and business-friendly regulations, and bureaucrats who have the modesty to stay away from areas in which they have no expertise, lest they do more harm than good.
Race and Diversity
Affirmative action policies have recently been watered down by court decisions at the federal level. Were the City of Boston to be forced to dismantle affirmative action policies as a result, what are three steps you would take to ensure and increase access to opportunities within city government agencies? What are some creative policies other than affirmative action that the city could implement that would support and retain diversity within its workforce?
I do not believe in separating people into categories or groups based upon superficial characteristics such as skin color. I believe that the best for government to combat discrimination is to protect our personal and economic freedoms, and stay small. Self-interested voluntary-sector employers hire workers based on merit and qualifications. Employers that discriminate, and hire the less-qualified in order to exclude members of a certain group, will be outcompeted by those who don’t. Government, since it has no profit incentive, is largely immune to these sorts of market forces, and may discriminate with impunity, making up the losses through higher taxes – but this is a deficiency of government, not the free market. In the long term, the race question – in all its many facets – will not be resolved by resorting to force, not even that of a majority. Love can only be voluntary.
- The city of Boston is very limited in the ways in which it can raise revenue. Given that, what changes, if any, would you propose to make city revenue policy more progressive?
- If you were given the power to substantially reduce the budget of two city departments and increase the budget of two others by that same amount, what departments would you cut from, and which would you add to?
If by a “progressive” revenue policy, you mean one that deliberately redistributes wealth to those whom politicians have decided deserve or are entitled to it – such as a large underclass whom the government has conditioned to depend on involuntary charity; large, corrupt banks and corporations; and favored industries for whom the government is the only or principle buyer (the military industrial complex and health care industry) – then I do not support such a policy. I reject all forms of collectivism, including Marxism, as affronts to individual rights (plank #2 of the Communist Manifesto refers to this issue). If I were allowed to make cuts to the budgets of two city departments, I would abolish the BRA (even though it’s technically “off budget,” which I believe is criminal, since it’s a governmental organization over whom we lack the power of the purse) and phase out centralized control of public schools, by returning to the neighborhood model.