Representatives Mike Moran and Aaron Michlewitz have filed legislation that would create a state level commission to oversee the Olympics bid process. I think their initiative is timely and helpful and I have signed on as a cosponsor.
I am very open to the idea of an Olympics in Boston. I have long felt that transportation investments in Boston are a top priority. Of course, the recent transit failures highlight the need. But more than that, Boston is the main part of the state where public transportation can actually work. Public transportation requires geographic density to be cost-effective — that’s why it is so great in New York City and so weak in rural areas: Unless there are lots of people living all along a transit line, the cost of service is prohibitive. In the legislative process, we often have to spread transit investments to places where they are not cost-effective simply to get bills passed. The Olympics may help refocus transit investments where they will have the greatest payback — in the inner core of Boston.
There are many dimensions of the Olympic process that merit some state level oversight and the Moran/Michlewitz bill is very broadly drafted to cover everything from siting to disclosure of expenditures as the process moves along. Like all legislation, it will evolve substantially through the legislative process. My own central concern is to understand and limit the Commonwealth’s financial exposure in the process. While those leading the Olympic effort have created a project budget that balances, the uncertainty around both costs and revenues is huge. Construction costs are always uncertain, and no one really knows what the advertising market is going to look like a decade from now. While I think that the more sustainable approach that the Boston leadership is taking to the Olympics will reduce risk substantially, the financial risk of the effort seems likely to remain substantial. We need to understand who is bearing that risk — what are the explicit and implicit understandings that the Commonwealth will stand behind the effort if it goes off the rails financially? What can be done to set sharp boundaries on that risk? As the saying goes “Manage the downside, the upside will take care of itself.”