Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has filed a $610 million economic stimulus bill and urged the state legislature to pass it by the end of the session this July.
Half the funds sought in the legislation would go to the popular MassWorks program, which provides grants, typically under $10 million, to pay for infrastructure projects that are tied to privately- funded job creation. Baker is also seeking more money for workforce skills training programs and he proposes to create a permanent sales tax holiday for one weekend each year.
Baker announced the new legislation at a speech Friday in Springfield. He addressed the Springfield Regional Chamber’s annual Outlook luncheon, which attracted more than 600 business leaders and elected officials.
Since 2015, Baker said the administration has awarded $430 million from the MassWorks program to 130 communities to stimulate the creation of thousands of permanent jobs.
"It is a huge piece of how we help our colleagues in local government and our local business leaders execute on downtown development plans, economic development plans and housing initiatives and we are looking forward to doing more of that sort of thing," said Baker.
The Massachusetts economy is pumping out new jobs at a rapid pace, but the pipeline of skilled workers to fill the jobs is slowed to a trickle.
The bill seeks to address the skills gap problem by reauthorizing a grants program for schools to train students for work in high-demand growth industries in the state. A new program would offer a tax credit to employers who hire and train people to work in the fields of health care, manufacturing, and information technology.
Baker is also seeking $100 million for a new initiative where the state could partner with local communities on projects that have the potential to create large numbers of jobs that have a significant regional impact.
" That is something we believe, especially Worcester west, could be a really interesting tool to help folks collaborative on economic development initiatives that might cross more than one communities border," Baker explained.
Addressing an audience that included many members of the western Massachusetts legislative delegation, the Republican governor implored the Democratic-controlled legislature to pass the bill before the session ends this July.
" For those legislators who are here, that would be the 31st of July," Baker joked that economic development bills typically go right down to the wire in a legislative session.
Despite a long legislative agenda that includes the state budget and ambitious and complicated bills to overhaul the criminal justice system and tackle health care cost containment, Baker said he’s confident the lawmakers can find time to work on the economic development bill.
" I think the outlook for getting it passed is pretty high, said Baker.
State Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow) said what the governor outlined in the legislation sounded good.
" Of course we'll have to take a closer look at it," Ashe said, adding " I am sure there will be some great things in it to help stimulate the economy."
Baker was warmly received at the business luncheon. He was given a standing ovation when he was introduced.
Tricia Canavan, President of Springfield-based United Personnel, said the Baker administration has been a friend to business.
"As business continues to grow, we need to make sure we have the workforce to support that growth and I think the alignment of workforce development, education, housing and economic development has been critical because it should be an aligned strategy," Canavan said.
The annual two-day exemption from collecting the state’s sales tax was wildly popular with retailers for years in Massachusetts. But last year the state legislature refused to authorize it, citing tight state finances. The revenue hit from the sales tax holiday is estimated at $20-$25 million.
Baker’s legislation would also allow fantasy sports betting to continue in Massachusetts past a July 31, 2018 deadline when current authorizing legislation sunsets.