BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — With the state budget now on the governorâ€™s desk, the Senate has turned its attention to the economic development bill written in the House, reviewing the far-ranging proposal during a committee hearing.
â€śThere is a lot to dissect,â€ť Sen. Brian Joyce, chairman of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, told the News Service after the hearing Monday morning.
Joyce said the committeeâ€™s review would entail â€śa couple of weeksâ€™ worth of workâ€ť and envisioned â€śone or two modest suggestions for improvementâ€ť to what he said was a bill with â€śvery, very good components.â€ť
With formal sessions due to end for the year on July 31, time may represent one of the billâ€™s biggest obstacles. If the House and Senate bills end up featuring significant differences, lawmakers will have little time to resolve them.
The legislation (H 4119) crafted by Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee) sailed through the House in May, accompanied by an open letter from Speaker Robert DeLeo to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, touting the billâ€™s â€śtalent pipelineâ€ť and urging the entrepreneur to come back to Massachusetts. Neither DeLeo nor Wagner spoke at the Senate hearing.
â€śAlthough the economy is improving, I think there are ways we can hopefully improve upon it,â€ť DeLeo told the News Service on Monday afternoon. He said that when he last spoke to Senate President Therese Murray she told him â€śas soon asâ€ť the budget is finished the Senate would take up the economic development bill.
Mondayâ€™s hearing was the Senateâ€™s first public look at the bill. Joyce said it had â€śextraordinary broad-based support from the business community,â€ť but also said he would take note of concerns raised by Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) about the lack of oversight contained in a provision that would allow municipalities to borrow funds using local land values as leverage.
â€śThereâ€™s always a temptation I think to approve any program that appears to be cost free,â€ť said Provost, who warned that securing loans with local property values would make cities and towns â€śvulnerable to economic downturns and over-optimistic calculations.â€ť
While voicing support for the rest of the bill, including other debt-financing provisions, Provost also spoke out against a provision that would give developers an automatic two-year extension of permits, allowing them to put off the actual start of construction.
â€śWe have a landowner [in Assembly Square, Somerville] that has been sitting on land, which it got permitted and, you know, promised to develop years ago,â€ť said Provost. â€śObviously if that landowner continues to sit on the undeveloped land, the tax revenues are not going to come in as anticipated.â€ť
Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki also broadly supported the bill but said that tax incentives should go through a new vetting process for tax breaks.
â€śWhat weâ€™re asking here is for improvements and expansions of the infrastructure programs that have proven themselves best at leveraging private investment,â€ť Bialecki said.
Bialecki said the billâ€™s passage would help MassDevelopment provide expanded assistance to manufacturers, enable Mass. Technology Collaborative matching investments for research and development initiatives, and establish a â€ścreative economy network.â€ť
Lawmakers spoke in favor of infrastructure-building programs that would be expanded by the bill, with Joyce mentioning he had coffee Monday morning at a coffee shop that owed its existence to a MassWorks grant.
â€śThe sidewalk, which was non-existent prior to this grant, was now bustling with people at tables enjoying their breakfast,â€ť Joyce said.
Vice Chairman Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) and Provost both touted I-cubed grants, which leverage the promise of future payroll taxes to create state bonds for infrastructure around business developments.
â€śThis is something that has spurred the redevelopment of a very large area,â€ť Provost said, referring to Assembly Square. She said, â€śWe have been able to leverage $1.5 billion in private development; ground has been broken on an Orange Line stop on tracks that had gone through the site.â€ť
Lobbyists representing union workers, real estate developers, and research labs all spoke in favor of the bill, too, focusing on the specific areas that would help their interests and only offering suggestions for minor tweaks.
Katherine Mainzer, for the Workforce Solutions Group, said she supported funding for a workforce training trust but asked that the Legislature fund it directly, rather than out of the consolidated budget surplus, which she said no longer has any funds within it.
Joyce also said he had received correspondence from other groups, including community development agencies and Sen. Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell), all of whom support the bill.
Copyright 2013 Andy Metzger, State House News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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