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.
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.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.