From the Beacon, April 2019

Speaker Robert DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker have kicked off the 2019-2020 legislative session with impressive proposals to provide cities and towns with a major boost in funding to address resilient infrastructure and climate change adaptation needs. This is welcome news for municipal leaders, who face a monumental challenge in planning and funding the transformation of our public buildings, roadways, culverts, seawalls, dams, environmental and energy systems, and much more into resilient structures and operations that can withstand and mitigate the impacts of global warming.

In late February, Speaker DeLeo unveiled a sweeping proposal for a GreenWorks Resilient Communities Investment Plan to provide local governments across the state with $1 billion in direct grants over the next 10 years to support infrastructure resiliency projects and renewable energy initiatives. The state would fund the program through its capital budget, backed by long-term borrowing, with a commitment to support a wide range of municipal projects to address local needs.

In his announcement, DeLeo noted that he represents two coastal communities and has been engaged in this issue for many years. He also recognizes that climate change adaptation efforts are a priority in every city and town throughout Massachusetts.

Speaker DeLeo is a former selectman in Winthrop, so it was no surprise to hear him say, “We believe that these concrete local investments can make a difference in the real world. Our cities and towns know their unique needs and areas of opportunity the best.” That’s music to local officials’ ears!

Accordingly, the speaker’s vision for GreenWorks is modeled after the highly popular and successful MassWorks program, which provides a transparent and practical approach to public works and economic development grants to communities. GreenWorks would be administered through the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and is intended to complement, not replace, existing programs, such as the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. GreenWorks would provide cities and towns with grants for resilient infrastructure, electric vehicle stations, solar arrays, microgrids and much more.

The speaker’s proposal adds to the momentum that Gov. Baker generated when he came to the MMA Annual Meeting in January and announced his vision for a 10-year, $1 billion municipal grant program for “climate-smart infrastructure and other initiatives to help build resilient communities.” The governor’s plan would create a Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund that would receive annual revenue from an increase in the real estate transfer excise tax. That tax would generate $75 million in the first year, and grow to $137 million annually during the decade.

Because the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund would not rely on bond funds, a portion of the money could be dedicated to planning and training grants, in addition to capital investments and improvements.

It is important to note that once again, Massachusetts leaders are demonstrating a bipartisan approach to addressing difficult and seemingly intractable issues – a lesson that should inform the federal government and serve as a model for the nation. On the federal stage, too much of the debate seems to be postured to mollify the viewpoints of stakeholders who are planted on polar extremes (for example, fighting about whether climate change is cyclical or human-made, instead of accepting the reality and moving on to problem-solving). At the state and local level, officials have a more pragmatic and practical view, and they know that action is what our residents are looking for, not rhetoric.

State leaders across all branches and parties have offered innovative and thoughtful climate change policies and programs over the past several years, and local officials are grateful that the House, Senate and administration have embraced a state-local partnership approach that eschews unfunded mandates or preemption of local authority.

At a recent meeting of the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C., I had an opportunity to brief the leaders of municipal associations from other states, sharing DeLeo’s and Gov. Baker’s resiliency proposals. Only half-kidding, several of my colleagues from politically polarized states asked if they could move to Massachusetts.

We look forward to this continued spirit of partnership and collaboration on other major priorities during this session, too, including modernizing and fixing Chapter 70 and charter school funding (in the same package), investing in transportation and environmental infrastructure systems for today and tomorrow, and embracing policies to grow our housing stock while preserving municipal and local citizen-based decision-making.

There’s a wonderful African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

All of these issues – education, infrastructure, housing and resiliency – are vital to our common economic future and quality of life, and sustainable progress will be possible if leaders at all levels adopt and continue the partnership approach reflected in the resilient infrastructure proposals that have emerged early in the legislative session.

Massachusetts can go far, but to do so we need to go together. That’s why a strong state-local partnership is so important, and why we have reason to be optimistic and ambitious on all of these issues during the months ahead.

Written by Geoff Beckwith, MMA Executive Director & CEO