By Seth Daniel
Councilor Stephen Murphy is one of the more visible councilors when it comes to attending community events, fundraisers or civic meetings, whether it be in Eastie or his home of Hyde Park, but the work of the life-long councilor is often best seen in between the lines – that being line items in the City Budget.
Murphy, who was first elected in 1997, is currently running for re-election to gain one of the four at-Large seats up for grabs in a five-person field. In a recent interview, he said he has always been a councilor who looked for creative ways to save money – being a finance person during his early working years – and give everyone a hand up.
As such, Murphy is focusing on his experience as he campaigns, pointing to the little and big things he has done to help the common good over the years.
“Growing up in Dorchester, it was part of my upbringing; my parents stressed to always work to be part of the collective good,” he said. “They always said to make sure to give people a hand up when you can and not to be about the ‘you,’ but about the ‘we.’”
Murphy attended Boston Public Schools – the son of a BPS Teacher’s Aide and a Boston Police Officer – and graduated from Boston Latin School. He attended Stone Hill College and worked at a private company in transporting deaf students to a Rhode Island school. After graduation, once receiving a job offer for business administration in Connecticut, the owner of the company matched the Connecticut offer, and Murphy said he went to work in the private sector doing everything from balancing the books to being a marketer.
The sale of that company, however, to an out-of-state firm led him to the State House, where he was a budget analyst for the State Senate.
“I changed direction with my life and went to work in the State Senate as a budget analyst and I began to realize the difference between private finance and public finance,” he said. “I’ve put that knowledge to good use at the Boston City Council on many occasions.”
One example of digging deep for savings, he said, was in 2003 when the state slashed Local Aid payments to Boston – sending the City reeling. Murphy discovered an obscure state law from the late 1950s that required Boston to put millions of dollars into an Overlay Account. Boston was required to put 5 or 6 percent of its budget into such an account, while every other municipality put in 2.5 percent.
Through a petition to the State Legislature, Murphy was able to repeal the requirement and release millions to the City.
“I was able to get us out of that and release $26 million out of the Abatement Trust Fund to the budget for operational needs,” he said. “It helped keep us going without raising revenue – just through legislative and financial tools.”
From the line items, he points to the blinking lights – that is the countdown lights on all Boston crosswalks.
“I was in Washington, D.C., and on Massachusetts Avenue and saw that all the crosswalks had a countdown feature,” he said. “I thought it would be a good idea to bring to Boston and we were able to do that. It’s a great help to everyone, especially the elderly.”
Murphy also pointed to his revised plan and study in 2009 of the various Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements. He said the late Mayor Tom Menino appointed him to the Committee to study the issue and reform the PILOTs, and they found many that needed updating.
“For example, all of Northeastern University, with all of its buildings, was paying just $18,000 per year to the City,” he said. “My mother’s single-family home had a tax bill of $4,300 per year. They were basically paying the equivalent of four single-family homes for all their land and buildings…We agreed to let them ramp up to the new payments over five years. Overall, it released an additional $30 million for the City. We’re now in year four of the program and about to be all the way ramped up.”
Looking forward, Murphy said the City needs to really consider if it’s reached a level of overdevelopment that is affecting quality of life.
“Moving forward, we have to worry about overdevelopment,” he said. “If you get in a automobile at any time in any place in the city, you are stuck in the city. We are paralyzed with traffic and parking problems. We really have to look at that. You have people circling and driving around and around for an hour to look for a parking spot near their homes.”
Along those same lines, Murphy said he wants to investigate a North Station-South Station Connector using an above ground, solar-powered monorail on the Greenway.
“I’m interested in looking at building a solar-powered monorail to bridge the gap between North and South Station on the Greenway,” he said. “You can privately fund it and get it done with no cost to the taxpayers.”
He also said, moving forward, that he wants to be more efficient in the busing of students within the district and for outside special education placements.
“It’s our duty to do this,” he said. “I don’t shrink from duty. I just think we can be doing it in a much more efficient way.”
Finally, as the chair of the Public Safety Committee, he said he is happy about the way the Boston Police have been conducting community policing.
“The kids see them as more than the police,” he said. “They see them as human beings. The officers play basketball with the kids and go on day trips. There’s an interaction and not on an enforcement level…I believe we’re actually a model for doing it right.”
Murphy is currently a resident of Hyde Park with his wife, Bridget Simmons Murphy.