Senate budget plan adds 9 Gateway Cities

Group would expand by a third

THE NUMBER OF GATEWAY CITIES in Massachusetts would expand by more than a third under a Senate budget proposal scheduled for debate this week.

The budget plan, crafted by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contains an outside section that would lower the population threshold for designation as a Gateway City from 35,000 to 20,000. The change would add nine municipalities to the 26 currently listed as Gateway Cities, a designation that brings with it the potential to tap additional state resources and tax incentives to spur economic development in the struggling communities.

Last summer, the Legislature approved the lower 20,000 population threshold, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Deval Patrick, who said it would dilute the benefits available under the program. There are currently 26 municipalities that qualify as Gateway Cities, including Springfield, Worcester, Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River, Fitchburg, Brockton, Pittsfield, Holyoke, and Haverhill.

Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for Sen. Stephen Brewer, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said lowering the population threshold would result in Agawam, Gardner, Gloucester, Ludlow, Milford, Randolph, Wareham, West Springfield, and Yarmouth being designated as Gateway Cities.

Ludlow, Wareham, and Milford aren’t cities, but Kelly said that doesn’t matter. She noted that state law defines the communities as gateway municipalities, not cities. “Gateway Cities is just sort of the term folks have adopted,” she said in an email.

Brewer, in a statement, defended changing the criteria. “By lowering the population threshold for gateway communities, we are opening up opportunities for more of Massachusetts’ smaller municipalities to get some assistance strengthening and rebuilding their economies,” he said.  “The designation would allow these new cities and towns to access benefits that will aid in investments in education, infrastructure, and job growth, reviving them as economic centers and building the middle class workforce.”

Smaller communities have been pushing for several years to gain admission to the Gateway Cities club. The effort has been spearheaded by Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, who claims the current population cutoff is unfair to smaller communities who meet the criteria in every respect but size. Current law sets the following membership criteria for Gateway Cities: a population between 35,000 and 250,000; a median household income below the statewide average, and a rate of educational attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher that is below the state average.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

State Treasurer Steven Grossman, a likely candidate for governor, recently  gave a speech in Gardner in which he said he was sympathetic to the pleas of smaller communities who want to be recognized as Gateway Cities.

Sen. Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, the cochair of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, says he hears the same concerns from smaller communities all the time, but he is not in favor of changing the membership criteria.