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Last week, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was busy signing bills into law. One, H 4569, characterized as a $1 billion initiative in the Governor’s announcement, is known as An Act Relative to Job Creation and Workforce Development. Another, H4424, concerns infrastructure funding.

Job Development funding

The Act Relative to Job Creation and Workforce Development is organized around four main themes: community development, workforce development, innovation, and economic competitiveness. Key provisions include the following, organized by theme: 

Community Development

  • MassWorks ($500 million capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that provides municipalities and other public entities with public infrastructure grants to support economic development and job creation.
  • Transformative Development Initiative ($45 million capital authorization): Supports the revitalization of Gateway Cities, by enabling MassDevelopment to make long-term patient equity investments in key properties in Transformative Development Initiative districts, with the goal of accelerating the maturation of private real estate markets.
  • Brownfields Redevelopment Fund ($45 million capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating the redevelopment of contaminated properties.
  • Site Readiness Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Advances regional job creation by creating a new fund for site assembly and pre-development activities that support regionally significant commercial or industrial development opportunities.
  • Massachusetts Food Trust Program ($6.4 million capital authorization): Capitalizes a financing program to support rural agriculture and increase food security in low- and moderate-income communities.
  • Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Moves funding for the state’s Smart Growth Housing Trust Fund to the capital program, providing a reliable long-term funding stream for a fund that is the Commonwealth’s primary tool for facilitating smart growth housing development.
  • Starter Home Zoning: Incentivizes the creation of smaller, denser, and more affordable single-family homes by creating a new starter home option under the Chapter 40R smart growth housing program.
  • Housing-Related Tax Increment Financing: Supports housing production in town centers and urban neighborhoods by reforming a seldom-used local-only smart growth tax incentive program, removing onerous regulations, and allowing communities to set their own affordability requirements.
  • Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) Reform: Supports the development of market-rate housing in Gateway Cities by allowing credits to support new construction, and by raising the formula that sets housing development incentives.

Workforce Development

  • Workforce Skills Capital Grants ($45 million capital authorization): Establishes a new grant program for workforce development training equipment, to strengthen workforce skills, and create strong employment pipelines.

The Massachusetts Innovation Initiative

  • Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2) ($71 million capital authorization): Provides matching grants to establish public-private applied research institutes around emerging manufacturing technologies. The state’s capital funds will be matched with federal and private industry funds.
  • Scientific and Technology Research and Development Matching Grant Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Reauthorizes a capital grant program that funds nonprofit, university-led research collaboratives working to commercialize emerging technologies, thereby supporting the development of emerging industry clusters.
  • Community Innovation Infrastructure Fund ($15 million capital authorization): Creates a new fund for making capital grants that support community-based innovation efforts, including co-working spaces, venture centers, maker spaces and artist spaces.
  • Digital Health Care Cluster Development: Broadens the statutory charge of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) to include digital health cluster development.
  • Angel Investor Tax Credit: Promotes startup activity and job creation in the Gateway Cities, by incentivizing investment in early-stage life sciences and digital health firms.

Economic Competitiveness

  • Conley Terminal Rehabilitation ($109.5 million capital authorization): Permits the Massachusetts Port Authority to pursue the reconstruction of South Boston’s Conley Terminal, including berth construction and crane procurement, to accommodate new, larger cargo ships.
  • College Savings Tax Deduction: Provides Massachusetts residents with tax deductions for making deposits into prepaid tuition or college savings accounts.
  • Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) Reforms: Builds accountability in the state’s primary job-creation incentive program by strengthening the link between the issuance of tax credits, and job creation that would not otherwise occur; adds flexibility to the incentive program by eliminating obsolete, formula-driven incentive categories.
  • Liquor Law Reforms: Protects the ability of farmer-wineries, farmer-breweries, and farmer-distilleries to serve their products on their own premises; supports consumer choice and access to markets by allowing retailers who sell alcohol to also serve alcohol in in-house cafés; liberalizes restrictions on the sale of alcohol around certain holidays.
  • Regional Economic Development Organization (REDO) Modifications: Shifts the focus of nonprofit regional economic development nonprofits toward systems-based efforts to stimulate economic growth, including strengthening the regional skills pipeline, and executing regional industry cluster development strategies.
  • Fantasy Sports: Legalizes daily fantasy sports contests operated in accordance with regulations promulgated by the Attorney General.

Infrastructure funding

Another important measure that Gov. Baker signed is H 4424, providing for the financing of improvements to municipal roads and bridges into law. In his press release touting the “major new investments,” Gov. Baker described the law’s authorization of $50 million for the Municipal Small Bridge Program. This amounts to up to $500,000 per year over five years, per municipality, for administration, design, and construction of small bridges. The Small Bridge program is intended to support 1,300 bridges on municipal roads that span a length of between 10 and 20 feet. Bridges of this size are normally not eligible for federal aid under existing replacement or rehabilitation programming, but are at high risk for full or partial closure due to their present conditions.

In addition, H 4424 broadens the authorization of the Complete Streets Funding Program, which was launched earlier this year with an infusion of $12.5 million. Complete Streets provides up to $50,000 for technical assistance, and up to $400,000 in construction costs, for communities to plan and incorporate best practices into the design and construction of safe modes of travel for the public, including pedestrians, cyclers, drivers, and users of mass transit. 

Beyond these two projects, H4424 contains a $750 million authorization request for the federal aid highway program, of which Massachusetts will be responsible for $135 million. 

Finally, the legislation exempts the Rail Enhancement Program bonds from the statutory debt limit, making them more like bonds for similar projects, such as the Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP). The $3 billion ABP is designed to reduce the number of structurally deficient bridges while also creating thousands of construction jobs. 

No pilot program testing voluntary pay-per-miles driven scheme

One thing that the infrastructure legislation does not do is fund a pilot program that would test a mileage-based tax on drivers. Last month, we wrote an article, More states considering pay-per-mile charges instead of a gas tax, explaining that several east coast states were contemplating testing a vehicle-mils-traveled tax, by which drivers pay some amount for each mile they drive, and receive a credit for state fuel tax. In Oregon, the credit is 1.5 cents per mile.

In reporting on Gov. Baker’s veto, Mass Live quoted him as “worr[ying] a lot about the consequences of this for everybody…It feels to me like it falls into a category of something people really ought to know a lot more about before they head down this road.” He further opined that the program has the potential to create a "really skewed set of tax circumstances.” The Governor thinks the current gas tax system is “fair because it rewards people who drive more fuel-efficient cars.” Because transportation officials in Massachusetts have other priorities, he said, “[l]et's see what we can learn from the folks who are doing this in other states.”

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