If the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick and other state leaders really want to promote downtown business districts, they should forget about gimmicks and focus on the issues that really matter.
Last week, officials from the Massachusetts Cultural Council went to Newburyport to review our neighboring city’s application to earn designation as a “Cultural District.” There are 17 cultural districts in the state, with Gloucester and Rockport being the closest to our area.
The state Cultural Council was impressed with Newburyport, and it’s likely that the designation will be won. It will give Newburyport an advantage of sorts, particularly in attracting tourists, as the state intends to market the cultural districts to visitors and residents alike. It’s part of the state’s efforts to boost the “creative economy” in Massachusetts, certainly a worthy goal.
This was a measure that was birthed by the state Legislature about three years ago, in part to draw more tourist dollars and revenue to downtowns. It’s a good idea, but we can’t help but note that it bumps up against a particularly bad and pig-headed idea that the state’s lawmakers also inflicted on our cultural districts, as well as every other downtown restaurant and retail establishment.
About a year before the cultural district law was passed, lawmakers increased the sales tax by 25 percent, from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. It was a heavy blow to businesses in our area in particular, which have to compete against New Hampshire’s “tax-free” businesses. It was pitched as an emergency measure to help the state solve a looming deficit of over $1 billion.
Times have changed. Our economy has come out of its downward spiral. Unemployment has dropped and the private sector economy has improved somewhat. Most strikingly, the amount of money the state is collecting in taxes has drastically improved.