As soon as Governor Charlie Baker introduced his $3.5 billion economic development bill last month, city officials across the state were ready to review it, looking for what it offered to their community, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said Monday.
“I love what the governor has done,” Fuller, president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, told lawmakers. “He’s included every city and town in this. That’s why we’re all excited. It’s an inclusive proposition. It’s going to touch every person in the state.”
Fuller was one of several mayors and local officials who testified about the bill at an Economic Development Committee hearing. Like others, she described a project in her community that would receive funding under the bill – a streetscape improvement effort for Pettee Square in the Upper Falls area of Newton, which is expected to get 3 .1 million.
“It’s ready to go,” Fuller said. “All we need is your help.”
Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito used much of their time before the committee to highlight local projects online for funding through the bill (H 4270), which combines the $2.3 billion of remaining state dollars in money from the American Rescue Plan Act with $1.2 billion in state bail approvals. It includes funding for specific projects in Massachusetts’ 351 cities and towns.
Many of the projects Polito mentioned involved districts represented by committee members – among them, the demolition of the old Millville City Hall in Rep. Michael Soter’s district; the Main Street Overhaul in Hyannis, represented by Rep. Kip Diggs; a planning and zoning review of Cliftondale Square in Saugus, represented by Representative Jessica Giannino; and $5 million in lead service line replacements in Senator Michael Brady’s hometown of Brockton.
“There are still too many projects that don’t get the green light because we haven’t been able to dedicate the resources,” Polito said. “Now is the time to do it.”
Baker attached a sense of urgency to the bill. He said the timelines for committing and spending ARPA money — 2024 and 2026, respectively — and the constraints of the COVID-era supply chain, coupled with the general complexity of planning for construction projects, mean lawmakers must act quickly.
The governor cited recent projects in Ayer, Kingston and Easthampton that have fallen behind schedule.
“If we don’t get those dollars back into the hands of cities and towns across the state now so they can begin the process associated with planning, designing, reimagining, and kick-starting their local economies and their downtowns, we will continue to see empty storefronts and quiet main streets for years to come,” he said.
Baker’s bill includes nearly $970 million for downtown and community revitalization efforts, $270 million in bond approvals supporting housing production, and $750 million in investments in clean energies. He would direct $300 million to the unemployment trust fund to settle overpayments and greenlight the sale of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay.
In recent years, the passage of a major pre-election economic development bill has been a tradition at the end of each two-year legislative session, and lawmakers often load these bills with local and local appropriations. political endorsements to ensure their priorities reach the governor’s office.
Housing policy is an area that has inspired amendments and debate in past economic development bills and this cycle could also be a place where committee or individual lawmakers seek to build on what Baker has propose.
The Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which opposes rent control policies, wrote to lawmakers on Monday, noting that “advocates could use this opportunity as they review the economic development bill to call for passage rent control”.
CEO Greg Vasil said in the letter that housing construction “tumbled” in St. Paul, Minnesota, after voters approved a rent control initiative there, and called Baker’s bill “a step in the right direction” on housing because it spends “hundreds of millions of dollars on housing construction and rehabilitation.
Official legislative sessions end on July 31, and the two-year economic development package of recent years was one of the last bills passed as the morning of August 1 approached. Baker said he expects a similar timeline this year, which would allow him to assess completed legislation in early August.
“I think every economic development bill that’s been drafted since we’ve been here has come out of the legislature around the last day of the session, which makes sense,” he said after testified. “I mean, I totally get that.”
Baker said he had conversations with House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate Speaker Karen Spilka about the legislation, calling those discussions “smooth.”