Healey files bill funding housing, economic development
Measure does not include calls for permanent tax cuts
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
SAYING SHE WANTS her administration to be known as one “driving economic development,” growth, and opportunity, Gov. Maura Healey on Thursday announced plans to put before the Legislature a $987 million “immediate needs” bond bill for housing and economic development programs.
At a press conference in western Massachusetts, Healey discussed the first bill she’s filing, saying it will “ensure that critical housing and economic development programs across the state can continue to serve the people of Massachusetts without interruption.” It seeks to provide funds to existing infrastructure programs “that have exhausted existing resources,” the administration said, including MassWorks and the Middle Mile Broadband program.
The administration also filed a bill on Thursday to authorize the state to borrow an additional $400 million to fund road and bridge work under the Chapter 90 program for the next two years. Cities and towns are seeking a minimum $600 million commitment over two years.
The nearly $1 billion bond bill authorizes funding for cities and towns, including targeted funds for rural and small towns to support libraries, seaport development, housing, tourism and planning, the governor said.
It also seeks to bolster the broadband program, “which expands high speed internet to communities across the state, especially rural communities here in the Berkshires, and we understand how important the work is to make that real,” Healey said. The bill allots $9.3 million for broadband infrastructure, particularly in central and western Massachusetts.
The bill includes $400 million for the MassWorks Infrastructure Program and an extension of its authorization into fiscal year 2028. MassWorks provides grants to municipalities for large infrastructure projects that support housing production, spur private development and create jobs. The program has helped fund more than 500 projects since its creation in 2011, according to the governor’s office.
Healey’s $400 million figure matches the amount included in a version of the nearly $3.8 million economic development bill that lawmakers tried to get passed before the end of formal sessions in July. Top Democrats ended up slicing borrowing authorizations, including for MassWorks, out of the spending bill that former Gov. Charlie Baker signed in November. Bond measures require a roll-call vote that is only possible in formal sessions.
In December, Baker said he thought MassWorks funding would dry up by the fall of 2023 without passage of a bond bill this upcoming summer. He said lawmakers would need to make a borrowing bill one of their top priorities in the first six months of the 2023-2024 session.
Also cut from the final economic development bill last year was targeted tax relief that the House and Senate had agreed upon — and Healey supported on the campaign trail.
The governor included tax relief among her top priorities in her inaugural address, and pointed to legislative leaders in her party who have also put the topic forward on the top of their to-do lists, but her administration’s first two bills don’t address the issue.
After a meeting of the Beacon Hill Big Three last week, Healey, along with House Speaker Ron Mariano, made it seem she was waiting for the consensus revenue hearing on January 24 before making a move toward making any tax changes.
The bond bill the governor filed on Thursday does, however, include the topic of another of her campaign promises — housing.
The bill proposes $110 million in authorization for housing creation and preservation, including affordable rental housing, public housing, climate resilient housing, and transit-oriented development, according to her office. The Housing Stabilization Fund, Housing Innovations Fund, Smart Growth Housing Trust and Facilities Consolidation Fund are among the programs that would get additional authorization through this funding.
Housing was a cornerstone of Healey’s campaign, and she said on her inauguration day, “If we want Massachusetts to be a home for all we need to build more places to live and we need to make sure those homes are within reach.”
Her first bill also includes $48 million for the repair and modernization of public housing, which the governor’s office estimates would support about 80,000 residents across 230 municipalities.
In addition to the $400 million toward MassWorks, the legislation also proposes additional authorization for $34 million for the Underutilized Properties program, which is used for redevelopment of abandoned or underutilized properties; $5 million for the Rural and Small Town Development Fund, and $1 million for Community Planning Grants.
It also earmarks $104 million for the Clean Water Trust to help finance municipalities’ efforts to improve local water quality.
To take advantage of large amounts of funding available from the federal government, the bill proposes $200 million as a state match for federal grant programs included in laws such as the CHIPS and Science Act. It also includes $40 million to enable the state to apply for federal broadband and digital equity initiatives, and $30 million to compete for community broadband dollars through the bipartisan infrastructure law.
Healey said her administration also plans to file a more comprehensive bond bill later in the session.
The governor said she and her team made the announcement at Greylock Works in North Adams because it is a “prime example of the impact of the MassWorks program.”
The location is a revived cotton-spinning mill in the small town in Northwestern Massachusetts that is used for events such as weddings and conferences, and also hosts a restaurant, a co-work community, a culinary lab, a distillery and Berkshire Cider Project. Several million dollars in MassWorks grants has gone into the redevelopment of the mill.
“These are the types of innovative projects our administration wants to support across the state and with the 2023 Immediate Needs Bond Bill, we’re one step closer to doing just that,” Healey said.
The two bills are the first hint Healey has offered toward her approach to state-municipal relations, but cities and towns have already shown their hand with a 24-bill agenda full of asks, many of them new, from Healey and the state Legislature.
In November, the Massachusetts Municipal Association Board of Directors approved a legislative package that features 15 refiles, including a pair of local option tax proposals, and nine new bills.
The new bills call for the creation of a state authority to assist cities and towns with construction of public safety or municipal buildings and facilities, require paint producers to offer a stewardship plan for a collection program, and mandate “non-flushable” labeling on disposable personal care and household cleaning wipe products that do not meet performance standards.
Cities and towns will also press Beacon Hill in the slowly unfolding session on new proposals to make outdoor dining a permanent option, enable the permanent adoption of remote public meetings with public access, and allow any municipality without a local print newspaper to satisfy legal notice publication requirements on its own website, or sites of a local, regional or statewide online newspaper.
The MMA has long pushed unsuccessfully for greater revenue-sharing in the Chapter 90 road program and this year has a new bill on that topic that would fund that program at a minimum of $300 million per year for the next two fiscal years, with a requirement that those funds be available each year by April 1.
The refiled tax proposals favored by the MMA include a doubling of the local option sales tax on meals to 1.5 percent, and a local option sales tax of up to 2 percent on retail alcoholic beverages sales, including sales in bars, restaurants and package stores.
The relationship between the new governor and cities and towns will be further defined Friday and Saturday when Healey and Driscoll address the MMA’s annual meeting in Boston.
Healey and Driscoll’s visit to western Massachusetts was also a gesture of the administration’s promises to be a gubernatorial team for the whole state.
“It was very important to the LG and me and our team that we come to North Adams,” Healey said. “We have said throughout and we have said on the trail that we would be a team and an administration that is about all parts of the state.”
Driscoll has spent a lot of time in North Adams and the Berkshires, Healey said, and Hao attended school near North Adams at Williams College and now has a home in the area.
North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey introduced Healey and Driscoll, saying that having “great leadership and confidence” in the new administration makes her job as mayor a little easier.
“My new friend, my partner in crime, who keeps me going and sends me great texts all the time,” Macksey said of Healey.Healey said she and Macksey went to the FreshGrass Music Festival together over the summer.
“I wasn’t campaigning, I was simply really excited to get out, as I am always to visit these parts, and to see Tanya Tucker play,” the governor said.