Economic

Municipal leaders eager to work on projects outlined in Baker’s economic development bill

As soon as Gov. Charlie Baker filed his $3.5 billion economic development bill last month, municipal officials across the state were ready to pore over it, looking for what it offered their community, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said Monday.

“I love what the governor did,” Fuller, the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, told lawmakers. “He included every single city and town in this. That’s why we’re all excited. This is an inclusive proposal. It’s going to touch every single resident across the state.”

Fuller was one of several mayors and local officials who testified on 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 enhancement effort for Pettee Square in Newton’s Upper Falls area, which stands to get $3.1 million.

“It’s shovel-ready,” 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 in line for funding through the bill (H 4270), which combines the state’s remaining $2.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money with $1.2 billion in state bond authorizations. It includes funding for specific projects in all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Many of the projects Polito mentioned were in districts represented by committee members — among them, demolition of Millville’s old town hall in Rep. Michael Soter’s district; revisioning of Main Street in Hyannis, which Rep. Kip Diggs represents; a planning and zoning review for Cliftondale Square in Saugus, represented by Rep. Jessica Giannino; and $5 million worth of lead service-line replacements in Sen. Michael Brady’s hometown of Brockton.

“There are still too many projects that are not green-lighted because we haven’t been able to dedicate the resources,” Polito said. “This is our moment to do so.”

Baker attached a sense of urgency to the bill. He said deadlines for committing and spending ARPA money — 2024 and 2026, respectively — and COVID-era supply chain constraints, coupled with the general complexities of planning construction projects, mean lawmakers should act quickly.

The governor cited recent projects in Ayer, Kingston and Easthampton that have run into delays.

“If we don’t get those dollars into the hands of cities and towns across the state now so that they can begin the process associated with planning, designing and reimagining and jump-starting their local economies and their downtowns, we’ll continue to see empty storefronts and quiet main streets for years to come,” he said.

Baker’s bill features nearly $970 million toward downtown and community revitalization efforts, $270 million in bond authorization supporting housing production, and $750 million in clean energy investments. It would steer $300 million to the Unemployment Trust Fund to address overpayments and green-light the sale of the Hynes Convention Center in Boston’s Back Bay.

Over the past several years, 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 those bills up with local earmarks and policy riders to ensure their priorities reach the governor’s desk.

Housing policy is one area that’s inspired amendments and debate in past economic development bills and this cycle could also be somewhere that the committee or individual lawmakers seek to build on what Baker has proposed.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which opposes rent-control policies, wrote to lawmakers Monday, noting that “advocates may use this opportunity in considering the economic development bill to call for the passage of rent control.”

CEO Greg Vasil said in the letter that housing construction “plummeted” in St. Paul, Minnesota, after voters there approved a rent control initiative, and called Baker’s bill a “strong step in the right direction” on housing because it dedicates “hundreds of millions of dollars to housing construction and rehabilitation.”

Formal legislative sessions end on July 31, and the biennial economic development package in recent years has been one of the final bills passed as the morning of Aug. 1 approaches. Baker indicated he anticipates a similar timeline this year, which would have him weighing completed legislation in the early days of August.

“I think every economic development bill that’s been done since we’ve been here pretty much came out of the Legislature at around the last day of session, which makes sense,” he said after testifying. “I mean, I completely understand that.”

Baker said he’s been having conversations with House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka about the legislation, characterizing those talks as “fluid.”



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