Councilor Steve Murphy attended the Candidate Forum that took place on Monday, August 3, 2009.
Steve Murphy’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?
I am in support of Transit-oriented development that encourages people to use public transportation to move about the city. And with new development I believe that thirty percent of the units should be dedicated to low income/affordable housing unit.
When it comes to development in Jamaica Plain specifically, what are your top three priorities?
One of the rich characteristics of Jamaica Plain is its open space, which must be preserved. I am committed to preserving open space first and foremost. Where development is possible height and density are two areas that are important to me. We have to make certain that we don’t build to high or too much so that we exacerbate our already overwhelmed parking and traffic issues. We need to strive to maintain the quality of life residents enjoy.
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?
I have been an advocate for several years now on the Computer Take Back issue and have, in fact, been the only councilor up at the State House to testify on this issue.
In terms of what we should do in the City of Boston, as Chair of Ways & Means (2008) and working with Councilor Connolly, I pressed for and tripled the number of hybrid vehicles the City purchased. I continue to push for more. I am an advocate of generating electricity through wind turbines and solar panels. I also would like to see the City use energy efficient light bulbs and continue to use motion censor lights wherever possible. I also know we can reduce the lighting costs for the City by turning off the lights on city buildings at night and on the weekends.
- 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?
I encourage collaborative partnerships with the stakeholders, and we are all stakeholders. Not only would I like to see increased numbers of youth workers and after school programs, I would like to see an increase in the number of positive contact our youth has with the Boston Police Department through various events held across the city.
What are the top three specific improvements you would suggest to improve accountability and transparency in city government?
- I am proud to have authored an ordinance requiring city councilors to disclose their financial interests that passed in city council and was then signed by the mayor earlier this year.
- I was also the main sponsor on reforms to the retirement board
- Working with Council President Ross, the Council continues to use technology to open up even further the city councils policies and procedures.
- 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?
It goes without saying that we need a more efficient transportation plan for Boston, and I have been actively involved with this issue for years. We can’t sustain forty-three passenger vehicles carrying only fifteen students across the city with the current zone plan. It makes no sense. The Council, under my leadership increased the load factor per bus. I believe if we decreased the buses from 700 to 500 or less we could see a cost savings of $20-25 million. That money could be better spent on education needs.
I’m not an educator by vocation but my understanding is that some of it may be attributed to limited English language skills. To overcome this I believe we need more early learning centers as well as increased remedial and tutorial offerings at the earliest evidence that students need added services.
The Boston City Council doesn’t have the authority to change the School Department. That’s what the School Committee is charged with. That said, what I can do as a city councilor is work with Superintendent Johnson to bring added resources where available. I can also monitor the department and engage in dialogue to change personnel where needed. As you know, the City Council can oversee the budget and make cuts, though not line items. This is a better question for the Superintendent and/or School Committee members.
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?
Last years PHC budget was $69 million and the FY10 budget is a little over $70 million. The budget for the PHC has been consistent since I was first elected. Boston is the only city that hasn’t walked away from public health. The City should be applauded for that. We’ve gone from receiving $462 million to $199 million in State aid. If I could invest $10 million in those agencies I would rely on the public health officials to determine how the money would be best utilized.
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 Boston City Council has no role in the state’s transportation issues other than that we have a bully pulpit to speak on it. That said I support the Governors Transportation Reform Bill. I think there should be an increase in the gas tax. Again, the city council has no role in this issue but I support Governor Patrick in his efforts. It is fair to have the users paying for the service; it is not fair to have property owners overburdened with taxes.
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 am supportive of job training and mentoring opportunities that give individuals hands on experience in a chosen field. We need to do a better job insisting that on all development projects in our city that Boston jobs are filled by Boston residents.
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 believe there are a plethora of opportunities within the City of Boston. In order to retain and add to our diversity is further job training. The majority of BPS students may be able to pass the MCAS but the students lack job skills. We need to implement a program that gives inner-city youth and opportunity to work (such as a co-op) with mentors in positions that they are interested in.
- 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?
I’ve been working on changing the way the Payment in Lieu of Taxes is calculated so that there is some tax fairness on the issue, as well as some added revenue generated for the City. In light of my work on this issue for the last several years the Mayor appointed me to the Task Force charged with making changes to the current PILOT payment program. We will see some change on this particular issue this year. That alone will generate much needed revenue for Boston.
I also support the meals and hotel tax, as well as a telecom tax. These important options will yield an additional $30 to $40 million per year in much needed revenue.
In the last three years I have worked with my colleagues to reduce the overtime budget of both the Fire Department and the Police Department. Neither department is being realistic in their current operating manner (in regards to overtime). We forced them to reduce their overtime budgets and I think that is a great step in saving the City money.
If I could increase the budgets of two city departments I would actually add to three (in no particular order):
- Boston Centers for Youth and Families
- Public Health Commission
- The chronically underfunded Parks and Recreation department.