Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is urging state lawmakers to act on key bills dealing with energy and jobs before the two-year legislative session ends on July 31st.
With hundreds of bills still pending, and lawmakers and the governor trying to resolve a potential budget deficit, Baker used an address to a western Massachusetts developers conference in Springfield Thursday to highlight pending energy legislation and a nearly $594 million economic development bill.
An energy bill, already passed by the House and pending in the Senate, would require the state’s big power companies to sign long-term contracts to purchase hydropower from Canada and would incentivize off-shore wind energy development in Massachusetts.
"Root for us to make sure we get that legislation passed because it is important," said Baker.
The economic development bill recently cleared a key joint legislative committee. Most of the money -- $300 million over three years – would to go into the MassWorks program, which provides grants for infrastructure projects to support job creation and housing.
There is also $45 million for brownfields cleanup, $30 million for workforce training, and the bill authorizes tax breaks for companies that create new jobs, or keep jobs in Massachusetts. There are also incentives to spur economic activity in the so-called Gateway cities – mid-size cities with median incomes below the state average.
Baker said areas outside greater Boston would be the biggest beneficiaries of the economic development bill.
"This is one of those bills that absolutely positively has to make it through," said Baker.
Speaking with reporters later, Baker said he hoped the possible budget deficit would not consume all of the time left in the legislative session.
" I really hope we get a significant number of those more policy-oriented pieces through the legislature. There is no question the budget issue is going to require more time and attention than people originally anticipated," said Baker.
The jobs bill that emerged from the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies did not include a sales tax holiday. Massachusetts has had a weekend in August where the sales tax was waived in 12 out of the last 13 years, but it may not happen this year because of the possible budget deficit.
Baker has agreed to discuss with legislative leaders whether the state can afford to give up the approximately $25 million in sales tax revenue.
"When you have a conversation like this you have to put everything in and we said we would be willing to talk about that ( the sales tax holiday) in the context of everything else," Baker said.
About 300 people attended the developers conference in Springfield. Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council said the conference highlighted over $5 billion in projects under way or announced in the region.
"We were looking to tell that story and at the same time tell the developers who are here that western Massachusetts is a good place to be and we can compete with other parts of the country that are looking for their business," he said.
This is the second developers conference hosted by the EDC. The first one was two years ago.