Glass Half Full: State Senate on Olympics Financing

(Update: July 17: The Governor signed the provision restricting financial support for the Olympics into law.)

(Update: July 7: The budget conference committee report has been filed and it includes the Senate provision restricting financial support for the Olympics. The conferees actually made the prohibition stronger by including tax expenditures (that is, tax credits and deductions) among the kinds of financial support subject to the restriction. Now to the Governor.)

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In its budget debate last week the Senate considered two amendments restricting public financial support for the 2024 Olympics. The Senators adopted one of the amendments on a voice vote and rejected the other in a close roll-call vote (no 22, yes 17).

Many of my fellow Olympics skeptics are vexed at the 22 Senators who voted “no” on the roll-call vote, arguing that in doing so they turned their backs on a meaningful opportunity to ensure that no public money will be spent on the Olympics. (That the text of the rejected amendment was the same language that noted Olympics opponent Evan Falchuk and the United Independent Party are endeavoring to place on the next statewide ballot contributes to the irritation.) The amendment that the Senate did adopt, to the extent that it is even mentioned, is written off as meaningless. You can find both of the amendments here.

I have a different view: the amendment the Senate adopted prohibits state agencies, as well as cities and towns, from spending any money to procure or host the Olympics unless the Legislature passes a bill specifically authorizing that spending and unless at least one public hearing is held before any such bill is passed.

Now, one could say — and my fellow skeptics do say — that nothing in the amendment keeps the Legislature from passing an Olympics-funding bill. But inherent in the lawmaking business is that a Legislature cannot constrain what legislation it may or may not pass in the future. The nature of plenary power is that one of the few things a plenary body is unable to do is to make a binding promise.

So while there’s discontent in the No Boston 2024 camp that Senate did not go farther, the Boston 2024 camp must certainly be even more unhappy that the Senate gave them this vote of no confidence. Seems to me that there’s considerable value in getting the House (which dodged the issue entirely in its budget debate) to agree to this provision and to get Governor Baker to sign it into law.

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