Recent Legislative Updates

August 2018

Legislature Finishes “Formal” Sessions with Flurry of Activity; Leaves Wage Theft, Health Care, Education, and Housing Undone

The Massachusetts legislature closed out the formal sessions for the 2017-2018 legislative session on July 31. In a continuing rite of passage, the Massachusetts legislature passed a $1 billion economic development package, opioid reduction legislation, and a compromise anti-animal cruelty bill, among many local initiatives, in the final days.

Of further note, the economic development legislation addressed the thorny issue of non-compete agreements used by employers to prevent employees from competing for the same work for which they were previously employed. The MassWorks municipal grant program was funded at $250 million while the rest of the legislation included: $537.8 million in local economic development aid grants, $50 million for grants for dredging projects in coastal communities, $50 million to the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities, $100 million for construction and improvements at the Raymond L. Flynn Cruiseport in South Boston to accommodate larger vessels, and $25 million for matching grants to enable colleges and universities to participate in and receive certain federal funding. Finally, the weekend of August 11-12 was designated as a sales tax holiday under the legislation.

Notably, the House and Senate were unable to pass health care reform legislation or legislation addressing the Commonwealth’s education funding formula. On health care, the ultimate stumbling block came down to the funding of community hospitals through a market based plan preferred by the Senate or a subsidization plan based on assessments, which was preferred by the House. On the education funding formula legislation, both the House and Senate proposed legislation to increase education funding, but a snag developed over the exact amount and mechanism used to provide the additional funding. Proponents of the two proposals were passionate about their concern over the legislature’s failure to complete these two bill.

Of particular note to UCANE members, the House did not advance legislation relative to wage theft, which was passed by the Senate towards the end of session. Advocates for the wage theft legislation, which was heavily amended from its original filing, have expressed a desire to seek a ballot initiative for the measure in 2022.

Short Term Rental Legislation Passes; Sent Back with an Amendment

In the last weeks of July, the Massachusetts legislature sent Governor Charlie Baker legislation regulating the short term rental industry. The bill would create a central state registry of short-term rentals and subject them to the same 5.7 percent lodging tax applied to hotel and motel room rentals. Cities and towns would have the option to levy an additional 6 percent tax on all short-term rental units, or up to 9 percent if the owner controls two or more units in the same municipality. Of interest to UCANE members, the legislation contained the creation and funding mechanism for a new Cape Cod Water Protection Trust, which would begin to address the region’s $4 billion water infrastructure funding gap.

Unfortunately for the creation of the Cape specific mechanism, the Governor returned the Legislature’s entire bill with an amendment that would exempt homeowners that rent out their units for fewer than 14 days a year. As well, a further amendment from the Governor is also proposing to limit the amount of information that will be made available through a new public registry of short-term rental housing units. The final amendment addresses the definition of a short-term rental to comply with the bonds used to finance the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center’s construction.

The amendment filed by Governor Baker would allow property owners that casually rent their houses or apartments for two weeks or less to avoid having to collect the state’s 5.7 percent per night lodging tax from guests, register with the state, or obtain $1 million liability insurance policy on their property. The 14 days threshold is significantly smaller than the 150 days Baker proposed in his own bill.

According to the State House News Service, the Baker-Polito Administration estimates that the change would reduce the state’s projected new revenues of $25 million by $300,000 and exempt about one-sixth of operators who would otherwise be required to register and collect and remit taxes.

Annual Solicitation for SRF Projects Released; Three New Programs Announced

According to a joint press release from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass,DEP) and the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (CWT), both entities have released the annual solicitation for projects to be financed by the State Revolving Fund (SRF) for 2019. The SRF offers subsidized loans to cities, towns and regional agencies to help protect their water resources and drinking water. In addition, the CWT announced the creation of three new programs: an Incentivized Lead Service Line Replacement Program; an Asset Management Planning Grant Program; and a Housing Choice Loan Program.

To be eligible for Clean Water or Drinking Water SRF loans, municipalities, wastewater districts, and water suppliers must file applications with MassDEP demonstrating that proposed projects offer significant public health or water quality benefit, have local funding authorization, and that there is a commitment on the borrower’s part to file a timely loan application. Applications are due by August 24, 2018.

The three new programs created by the CWT, found within the 2019 application, include:

Incentivized Lead Service Line Replacement Program – This program allows projects funded by the Commonwealth’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to convert loan interest that would have been paid to the CWT, into additional funds that can be used to replace private lead service lines (LSL). These converted funds will make private LSL replacement cost neutral for cities and towns, and free for homeowners.

Asset Management Planning Grants – This program is a new $2 million grant program aimed at the creation of water infrastructure Asset Management Plans (AMPs). These plans are essential for water utilities in tracking the useful life of their existing water infrastructure.

Housing Choice Loan Program – For communities that have achieved the “Housing Choice” designation under the Commonwealth’s Housing Choice Initiative, they will be eligible for an interest rate reduction up to .5% from the standard below market rate of 2% offered for most CWT loans.

For more information, please visit; https://www.mass.gov/state-revolving-fund-srf-loan-program

Baker-Polito Administration Provides Funding for Coastal Resilience Grants

The Baker-Polito Administration announced more than $3.2 million in funding to support local efforts to proactively plan for and adapt to coastal storm and climate change impacts, including storm surge, flooding, erosion and sea level rise in mid-July. The Coastal Resilience grants, provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), were awarded to Braintree, Chatham, Chelsea, Everett, Dennis, Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc., Gloucester, Hull, Ipswich, Kingston, Marion, Mattapoisett, Nantucket, Provincetown, Salem, Wareham and Winthrop. Since the Baker-Polito Administration’s start, 67 projects funded through this grant program, represent an investment of over $9.1 million.

CZM’s Coastal Resilience Grant Program provides financial and technical support for innovative local efforts to increase awareness and understanding of climate impacts, plan for changing conditions, redesign vulnerable community facilities and infrastructure and implement non-structural measures to increase natural storm damage protection, flood and erosion control and community resilience. Grants can be used for planning, public outreach and feasibility assessment, and analysis of shoreline vulnerability, as well as for design, permitting, construction and monitoring of projects that enhance or create natural resources to provide increased shoreline stabilization and flood control.

Among some of the 19 projects awarded funding in this grant round were the following:

Hull Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) Electrical Service Relocation ($148,350). The Town of Hull will replace the WPCF’s incoming underground electrical service and transformer with a new overhead service and elevated transformer to account for increased flooding and future sea level rise impacts.

Assessing the Threats from Climate Change to Marion’s Vulnerable Wastewater Pumping Infrastructure ($93,660). The Town of Marion will evaluate the vulnerability of its wastewater pumping stations and related infrastructure to storm surge and sea level rise impacts and recommend improvements and future actions to reduce risk to the pumping stations.

Construction of Mattapoisett’s Potable Water Infrastructure at the Pease’s Point Water Main Crossing ($498,750). The Town of Mattapoisett will relocate an existing water main that traverses an inlet between Pease’s Point and Point Connett to a more landward and deeper location to help ensure that service and water quality will be maintained during storm events and future sea level rise.

Installation of Bypass Connection at Cohasset Narrows and Hynes Field Pump Stations ($153,375). The Town of Wareham will install mechanical sewer bypass connections at the Hynes and Cohasset Narrows pump stations to allow the pump stations to immediately continue servicing critical infrastructure facilities in the event of a catastrophic flood event. The Town will also prepare design plans for a third bypass connection at the Narrows pump station.

Resiliency Assessment of Overflow Lagoons at the Wareham Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) ($63,750). The Town of Wareham will determine the additional storage capacity needed at the WPCF overflow lagoons for heavy precipitation and peak flow conditions with elevated groundwater due to sea level rise. Wareham will evaluate potential modifications to the lagoons to prevent excessive wastewater discharging into the Agawam River during flood events.

The CZM is the lead policy and planning agency on coastal and ocean issues within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Through planning, technical and grant assistance and public information programs, CZM seeks to balance the impacts of human activity with the protection of coastal and marine resources.

Plan for Proposed Use of VW Settlement Funds Released by Baker-Polito Administration

A draft plan for spending funds from the national Volkswagen (VW) emissions case settlement to reduce vehicle emissions and greenhouse gases (GHG) was released by the MassDEP in mid-July. The release of the plan follows public meetings held across the Commonwealth in which input was sought on mitigation actions to improve air quality by reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions using settlement funds. A national settlement in 2017 awarded the Commonwealth $75 million to spend over the next several years. The MassDEP is now seeking public comment on the proposed Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.

The national settlement provides Massachusetts with more than $75 million to spend on emission reduction projects. According to a public notice from MassDEP, the draft mitigation plan issued proposes funding projects that:

• Help the Commonwealth achieve GHG emission reduction targets and reduce air pollution in the transportation sector;
• Promote electrification of the state’s transportation network;
• Drive technological and policy progress in air pollution mitigation and GHG emissions reduction in the transportation network;
• Serve environmental justice populations; and
• Promote equitable geographic distribution across the state.

Under the draft mitigation plan, MassDEP proposes to fund $23.5 million in projects in the first year. The projects include: $11 million to support the purchase of electric transit buses by the Pioneer Valley and Martha’s Vineyard transit authorities; $5 million to supplement the network of existing electric vehicle supply equipment, with a focus on workplace charging stations, charging at multi-unit dwellings, and public fast-charging sites; and $7.5 million to be made available for proposals that will be submitted in response to a solicitation by MassDEP this fall. MassDEP will fund eligible projects under the settlement agreement that reduces emissions from vehicles and other mobile sources.

The national settlement with VW in 2017 resulted in the creation of a $2.925 billion Environmental Mitigation Trust funded by VW to address the air quality impacts of the excess NOx emissions. The trust includes an allocation of more than $75 million to Massachusetts. The Commonwealth has up to 10 years to spend 80 percent of its allocation and an additional five years to spend the remaining 20 percent.

MassDEP will accept public comments on the Beneficiary Mitigation Plan until 5 p.m. on Monday, August 20. Electronic comments can be submitted to vw.settlement@mass.gov and the subject line should state: “Comments on VW Draft BMP.” Hard copy comments can be sent to: Susan Lyon, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 1 Winter St., 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02108.

News in Brief

-Additional Funds for the Clean Water Trust? With the beginning of the Commonwealth’s fiscal year 2019 on June 1st, the Baker-Polito Administration closed out fiscal year 2018 by filing a final deficiency budget. Included in the fiscal year 2018 supplemental budget was $30 million for the Clean Water Trust’s (CWT’s) contract assistance line-item. The funding, which is in addition to the $63 million appropriated in the fiscal year 2019 budget, would be useable by the CWT to support a variety of initiatives undertaken by the CWT to support municipalities and the improve the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure. The Massachusetts legislature will likely take action on the fiscal year 2018 deficiency budget before the end of the year or at the beginning of 2019.

-Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Passed; Vetoes Overridden. The Massachusetts legislature passed a fiscal year 2019 budget in mid-July that included $29 million in funding for the administration of the DEP, a little over $63 million for the CWT’s contract assistance, and $1.1 million for the Commonwealth sewer rate relief program. The legislature, which also included an additional $8 million for addressing claims for the Underground Storage Tank (UST) Program, then promptly overrode 47 of the Governor’s 48 line-item vetoes. For more information about the Commonwealth’s FY19 budget, please visit: http://budget.digital.mass.gov/bb/gaa/fy2019/