Massachusetts Legislature Winds Up Formal Sessions
The Massachusetts legislature ended its 2021-2022 formal sessions on August 1. After a marathon final formal session, the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Massachusetts Senate passed a slew of conference committee reports that addressed mental health, sports betting, clean energy, transportation and improved court system infrastructure. While normally a hectic occasion in the best of times, the end of formal sessions was impacted by the news that the legislature’s tax relief proposal would be sidelined as the impact of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 62F is studied further.
The Massachusetts legislature’s economic development package has long been considered one of the primary jobs creators undertaken by the body each session. This session, the House of Representatives and Senate included a variety of tax relief measures alongside a variety of bonding and policy proposals that would have addressed everything from hospital funding, housing growth and a myriad of other applications, including water infrastructure funding. Governor Baker’s last-minute announcement that state revenues would likely trigger the Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 62F tax rebate for taxpayers came as a surprise to many observers on Beacon Hill.
Notwithstanding the late session drama, both Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ron Mariano have stated that they will work to advance elements of the economic development legislation either later this session or at the beginning of the next. For its part, the Massachusetts legislature did put its imprimatur on a wide range of issues nonetheless. The highly public battle over sports betting resulted in legislation that will allow betting on all games except those involving Massachusetts colleges and universities in non-tournament settings. A long sought and comprehensive change to the Commonwealth’s mental health laws reached the Governor’s desk. Likewise, the court system’s efforts to advance a $164 million technology bond bill, which would provide for improved recordkeeping and digital access, was successful.
In a bit of a quick back-n-forth, the Governor provided amendments to a clean energy bill that the legislature had pushed forward in the final days. To address the Governor’s concerns, the Massachusetts legislature worked with the Baker-Polito Administration to more fully address the identified areas. If approved, the wide sweeping energy bill will advance the Commonwealth’s efforts to bolster its wind and other reneweable energy portfolio. The legislation, however, has attracted the ire of the natural gas community which views the current proposal as a retreat from the jobs and benefits associated with the existing natural gas systems. As of this writing, there is no indication whether the Governor will signed the new version of the energy bill now on his desk.
The end of the formal legislative session led to a glut of conference committee reports, local home rule petitions and other legislation landing on the Governor’s desk. In all 64 legislative items arrived at the Governor’s desk. To view the current list of matters before the Governor at any time, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/on-the-governors-desk.
Legislature Passes Transportation Bond Bill; Includes UCANE’s Initiative on Dig Safe Improvements
As reported by a variety of media outlets, the Massachusetts legislature sent Governor Baker a transportation bond bill that will make improvements across a broad spectrum of transportation sectors while focusing on improving air quality and emissions. The Legislature’s final version of the transportation bond bill authorized $11.3 billion for transportation and infrastructure projects, including $400 million for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to address ongoing safety concerns identified by the Federal Transit Administration’s Safety Management Inspection and $275 million for the East-West passenger rail project.
Other highlights of the bill include:
To promote the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), the bill also includes $175 million for the development and implementation of programs to promote, establish or expand public electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the development and implementation of incentive programs promoting e-bikes and public transportation, replacement of high-emissions vehicles, electric vehicles for hire and carsharing, electric school buses, electric short-haul freight and delivery trucks, and for other pilot projects that focus on equity and inclusion while reducing emissions.
The bill mandates the MBTA to establish and maintain a three-year safety improvement plan with measurable safety objectives for the agency, and it directs the MBTA to contract with an independent third-party auditor to conduct annual safety audits. To ensure transparency around the MBTA’s safety, the bill directs the MBTA to submit a monthly, publicly available report containing all the incidents, accidents, casualties, and hazards affecting any of its modes of transit. In addition, the MBTA is required to develop and implement short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans for how each line of the commuter rail system can be fully integrated into the Commonwealth’s transportation system and contribute to the productivity, equity, and decarbonization efforts of the MBTA as a whole.
Additionally, the bill:
Of note again to UCANE members, the legislation before the Governor includes the Dig Safe initiative spearheaded by UCANE and the American Council for Engineering Companies, Massachusetts (ACECMA). The Dig-Safe laws and regulations, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 42, §40A – §40E and 220 CMR 99.00 et. seq., respectively, govern the marking of underground utilities for purposes of protecting against unintended strikes or breaks to utility equipment. While the DPU implemented a series of changes to the Dig-Safe regulations within the past five years, certain areas could not be updated due to the existing law. Accordingly, UCANE and ACECMA advocated for potential changes to the Dig-Safe laws to improve public safety, minimize disputes and, ultimately, reduce the costs of projects.
UCANE thanks Senator Brendan Crighton, Senate Chair, and Representative Bill Straus, House Chair, of the Joint Committee on Transportation for their work on this important legislation. Likewise, UCANE appreciates the thoughtful work of the respective Chairs for the Committees on Ways and Means (Senator Mike Rodrigues and Representative Aaron Michlewitz) as well as the support of Senate President Karen Spilka and Speaker of the House Ron Mariano.
Legislature Passes and Governor Baker Signs Fiscal Year 2023 Budget
The Massachusetts legislature sent a Conference Committee report on the fiscal year 2023 (FY’23) budget to the Governor in mid-July. The $52.7 billion spending plan that fully funds the continued implementation of the Student Opportunity Act, while making record investments in early education and childcare, housing and homeownership, college financial aid, economic and workforce development, behavioral health care and local aid was then signed by the Governor towards the end of the month. The FY’23 budget, which does not rely on one-time revenue sources nor raises any new taxes or fees, saw higher than anticipated appropriations across the board.
Specifically, the FY23 budget incorporates an upgraded $39.576 billion base tax revenue forecast, an increase of $2.66 billion above the total FY23 consensus tax projection set in January. This revenue supports a total of $52.7 billion in gross spending, excluding the Medical Assistance Trust Fund transfer, which reflects approximately 9.3% growth in appropriations over fiscal year 2022 (FY22). As enacted, the budget anticipates a sizable deposit into the Stabilization Fund (i.e. “Rainy Day Fund”) of nearly $1.5 billion, which would increase the balance of the Fund from an already historic high of $6.9 billion to $8.4 billion. This would represent a $7.3 billion increase in the balance of the Stabilization Fund since 2015.
The revenue upgrade incorporated into the budget also affords a number of substantial one-time transfers and reserves in FY23, including: a $266 M reserve to support MBTA safety and workforce initiatives; a $175 million transfer to a new trust fund dedicated to supporting high-quality early education and care; a $150 million transfer to the Student Opportunity Act Investment Fund; $100 million for a supplemental transfer to the Commonwealth’s Pension Liability Fund; and $100 million for a transfer to the State Retiree Benefits Trust Fund. The budget furthers supports job readiness and efforts to connect students and workers to high-demand career pathways with increased funding for programs within the Executive Office for Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD). It includes $28.5 million for the YouthWorks Summer Jobs program, $23.9 million in total funding for the Career Technical Initiative, $17 million for the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, and $15 million for MassHire one-stop career centers.
Of particular note to UCANE members, the FY23 budget contains the following appropriations:
The Governor returned approximately $450,000 worth of appropriations with a veto and 41 outside sections with an amendment. The fiscal year 2023 budget represents an increase of $5.1 billion or 10.7 percent over the $47.6 billion annual budget passed for fiscal 2022. According to the State House News Service, it also represents an increase of $14.6 billion or 38.3 percent over the first budget that Baker signed, a $38.1 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2016. To view the FY23 budget, please visit: www.mass.gov/gaa
Mayor Wu Appoints Kate England as Boston’s Inaugural Director of Green Infrastructure
The end of July saw Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announce the appointment of Ms. Kate England as the City’s inaugural Director of Green Infrastructure. Green infrastructure is an approach to stormwater management that protects, restores or mimics the natural water cycle through the use of trees and other vegetation. Green infrastructure also has numerous co-benefits including increased tree canopy, mitigating urban heat island effect, and increased ecological diversity. According to a press release from the City of Boston, Ms. England will collaborate across City departments and with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) to lead the City’s efforts to plan, build, and maintain green infrastructure as part of the Mayor’s Green New Deal for Boston.
Ms. England will be responsible for incorporating green infrastructure into the City of Boston’s project plans, regulations, and operations. She will be relaunching the Green Infrastructure Working Group that she started while at BWSC to ensure that City departments have a uniform approach to green infrastructure implementation. Through the working group, she will work with engineering and planning teams across City departments to update standard details and design guidelines to incorporate current green infrastructure best practice into the City’s daily operations, including sidewalk reconstruction, street repaving, development review, street tree planting, and park renovations.
Ms. England has a background in engineering and landscape architecture and most recently worked as a statewide planner for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). While at DCR, she advised staff about green infrastructure best practices, authored green infrastructure policies and procedures, chaired one of DCR’s Climate Action Teams, and helped lead DCR’s statewide Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. She previously worked as a project coordinator for stormwater infrastructure at BWSC where she established and oversaw the Commission’s Green Infrastructure Program. While at BWSC, she also helped author green infrastructure curriculum for 5th and 7th grade Boston Public Schools students. The curriculum was piloted in the 2018-2019 school year and is now taught districtwide.
Ms. England lives in the Stony Brook Reservation in Hyde Park with her partner Steve and their dogs Piper and Zoey. In her spare time England enjoys caring for her over 90 potted plants, gardening, and playing ultimate frisbee and field hockey. She holds bachelors degrees from Northeastern University in political science and international affairs and a master’s in environmental studies from Brown University where, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office, she wrote her master’s thesis on utilizing stormwater utilities to incentivize implementation of green infrastructure.
News in Brief
July Revenue Collections Total $2.367 Billion. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder announced that preliminary revenue collections for July totaled $2.367 billion, $101 million or 4.5% more than the actual collections in July 2021. July 2022 revenue collections were impacted by the recently enacted elective pass-through entity (PTE) excise. After adjusting for PTE excise, July 2022 collections are $92 million or 4.1% above actual collections in July 2021. July is one of the smaller tax collection months because no quarterly estimated payments are due for most individuals and businesses. Historically, roughly 6.7% of annual revenue, on average, has been received during July. Final fiscal year 2022 collections of $41.105 billion were up $6.982 billion or 20.5 percent over actual collections in fiscal year 2021 and were $3.438 billion or 9.1 percent more than what was expected to be collected.
Wage Theft Legislation Not Passed. The Massachusetts legislature did not pass legislation related to wage theft before the end of formal sessions. The legislation, which would have imposed vicarious liability to those contractors in privity with one another as well as authorized work stoppages and third-party lawsuits, has garnered significant attention in recent legislative sessions. The legislation, which has been opposed by UCANE and other contractor organizations due to concerns about the impact of broadly applied legal principles and unintended consequences, will likely reappear in the next legislative session.
General Obligation Bond Bill Signed Into Law. Governor Baker signed into law House Bill 5065, financing the general governmental infrastructure of the Commonwealth (GGBB). The bond bill included funding authorizations for a wide range of government programs, including, but limited to water infrastructure programs addressing lead, water tank storage, sewer lines and lead line removal. Of note, the Clean Water Trust would receive an additional $84 million of which not less than $20 million will be expended for a lead service line pipe replacement pilot program established within the same legislation. The grants to municipalities for the replacement of lead service line pipes will be focused on environmental justice populations and to provide an adequate supply of safe drinking. To review this bill, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/192/H5065.