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In addition to the laws embraced in the foregoing schedule, reference may be made to the anti-stock-watering laws of 1894, to the various acts for municipal lighting passed since 1890, to the law imposing a tax on legacies, to numerous acts for the abolition of grade crossings, to the investigation by a legislative committee into the capitalization of the Bay State Gas Company, and to the investigation by the Executive Council into the conduct of William M. Osborne, a member of the Board of Police; all matters to which I have been obliged to devote more or less time during the past four years.
Among the more important measures objected to and defeated may be mentioned the West End franchise bill of 1891; various measures annually introduced to drive foreign corporations out of the State by compelling a disclosure of the ownership of their stock; various other measures for increasing the burdens of double taxation; various amendments to the street construction law of 1891 offered for the purpose of compelling the city of Boston to construct streets for the benefit of private speculators; innumerable attempts to authorize the City Council to borrow money outside of the debt limit; the measure annually introduced into the Legislature for the ostensible purpose of securing a "redistribution" of the school fund, but really with the object of taking about $400,000 a year out of the city treasury of Boston and distributing it among the smaller towns and cities; bills to take away the fire department and other branches of municipal service from the control of the City Government; bills to compel the city to pay taxes upon the basins and other improvements built by it in the towns situated on the Sudbury-river water-shed; bills to increase the tax rate; bills to abolish the debt limit; bills to compel the city to use its money for improper purposes; and innumerable other measures in the interest of bad government.
On the other hand, unsuccessful appeals have been made to the legislatures of the last four years to extend still further the system of street and sewer construction by
assessment; to exempt municipal bonds from taxation; to secure a tax on direct legacies and successions; to authorize the Mayor and Aldermen to exact compensation for the use of streets from corporations having franchises therein; to procure the right to manufacture light for municipal use in the streets, parks, and other public property of the city; and for other minor reforms.
SECTION 1. Docks. The early growth, prosperity, and wealth of Boston were due to foreign commerce, and its one permanent natural advantage is its harbor. During the past forty years, however, the commerce of this port has been declining in comparison with that of Philadelphia and Baltimore, cities less favored with harbor facilities than Boston. This is not the place to discuss the causes of this decline nor the remedy, in so far as this depends upon the individual enterprise of our business men and merchants; but there is a widespread belief that the community in its corporate capacity should take the problem up, and if it were certain that the decline in our commercial importance. could be arrested or the foreign business of the city increased through the prudent and conservative action of the municipality, few would doubt the expediency of entering upon the work. The suggestion most frequently heard is that the city should undertake the construction of a great system of public docks in East Boston. Over seven hundred of our most prominent citizens and business firms have asked the City Government to petition the Legislature for such legislation as will permit the establishment of public docks in Boston harbor; and the City Council has requested me to send such a petition to the Legislature.
I have not been able to see my way clear to address such a petition to the General Court. The comprehensive scheme of public docks which has been presented in support of this request would involve the expenditure of millions of dollars; there is no consensus of opinion as to the best location for the docks; and it is altogether doubtful whether the establishment of them would in reality revive our languishing commerce. It should not be forgotten that the aid of the
municipality was unnecessarily invoked for the establishment of railroads. Mayor Otis took the ground in 1829 that "the State and city must be up and doing, or the streams of our prosperity will seek new channels," and advocated the construction of railroads on public account, or by means of public contributions, "to save this State and city from insignificance and decay;" while the people voted on July 30, 1830, to request the Legislature to authorize the city to subscribe for $1,000,000 of railroad stock. And yet a railroad system was secured for Massachusetts without State or city aid; and the subsequent railroad speculations of the State proved very expensive and useless undertakings. So, in the matter of dock facilities, it is doubtful whether any more are needed, and it is possible that if needed they will be supplied at the expense of private capital.
For these reasons, and in view of the unfortunate results of some of our municipal undertakings of this character, I have been unwilling to officially endorse a vague and general petition for the establishment of public docks. Before any such scheme is entered on, there should, it seems to me, be a most careful and thorough investigation, not by committees of the City Government or the Legislature, but by a special body or commission of persons, competent through their experience and knowledge of commercial and municipal affairs to study the subject in all its practical and financial details. In advance of such an investigation, it seems to me that it would be folly to commit the city in any manner to the purchase, construction, ownership, or management of public docks upon the scale contemplated.
Moreover, if an addition to our dock facilities is really necessary, and can only be procured at public expense, ways exist to secure it without seeking legislative authority to establish municipal docks upon the scale suggested, and without an increase of the city debt beyond the limit now fixed by law. In the first place, the Commonwealth owns a large area of flats in Ward 13, which it is slowly filling and selling off for building purposes. If public docks are a neces
sity they can easily be obtained through the improvement by the Commonwealth of these flats for dock purposes, rather than for building lots. In the next place, the city of Boston owns large areas of flats on the other side of the harbor, which can be filled or developed either for building or commercial purposes without any special authority from the Commonwealth, except the right to change the harbor lines. The City Engineer has at my request prepared a modest scheme for the construction of two or more large docks upon the city flats known as Bird Island, off Jeffries Point, in East Boston. Docks or wharves could be built on this site of sufficient size to accommodate six or eight large ocean steamships at a time, at an estimated expenditure of less than $1,000,000. The city has from the beginning exercised the right to improve its land upon the harbor front for commercial purposes, and the only authority that would seem to be needed for the improvement of the Bird Island flats for this purpose would be the consent of the State and Federal authorities to the filling of the flats and to the construction of wharves beyond the present Harbor Commissioners' lines. The system of docks thus suggested would cost but comparatively little; the amount needed could be divided into two annual instalments of $500,000, a sum easily obtained within the present borrowing capacity of the city under the debt limit law; and the scheme, if successful, could be extended almost indefinitely in an easterly direction towards Governor's Island, or in a northerly direction, at right angles to the Governor's Island channel. The city also has considerable property in South Boston, near the Reserved Channel, and a large area of flats in Dorchester Bay, which could be developed for dock purposes without any authority whatever from the Legislature or the Federal government.
If anything is to be done by the city of Boston in this
1 See various plans and suggestions contained in the report of the Rapid Transit Commission of 1891, as well as the plans recently prepared by the City Surveyor and the City Engineer.