Gov. Charlie Baker filed a five-year economic development bill on March 9 that includes $100 million for a new state matching fund program for public infrastructure projects that support development projected to create a large number of jobs on a regional level.
 
The governor’s $610 million package also includes $300 million for the MassWorks infrastructure program, matching what the Legislature approved as part of a 2016 economic development bill.
 
An additional $100 million would support coastal communities, divided equally between support for saltwater dredging and the Seaport Economic Council, which would provide funding for community planning and investments that stimulate economic development and create jobs in the maritime economy.
 
The bill would also:
 
• Create a program to provide incentives to businesses that occupy vacant downtown storefronts
• Clarify how Community Preservation Act funds can be used by municipalities
• Enable cities and towns to have easements outside their borders in order to access broadband networks
 
The bill would create a permanent “sales tax holiday” – typically a weekend when consumers do not have to pay the sales tax on eligible purchases at Massachusetts businesses.
 
The proposed regional development program, to be run by the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, would require projects to be endorsed by multiple municipalities or a regional planning commission. Projects would be evaluated based on projected private investment and jobs created or retained, and whether the project provides new investment and job opportunities in economically distressed areas.
 
Proposals approved by the state would receive funding to cover a portion of the cost of public infrastructure improvements included in the project, provided that the municipalities come up with matching funds and that the amount of projected new state tax revenue that would flow back into the program is at least equal to the provided state funding.
 
To address vacant downtown storefronts, the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council would establish a program that would award up to $500,000 in Economic Development Incentive Program tax credits each year to qualifying storefront tenants.
 
The governor’s bill would amend the Community Preservation Act to include more activities that support housing, such as feasibility studies, land use and development plans, and appraisals, as qualifying for funding. The section of the law that says the municipal Community Preservation Committee will make recommendations for “the acquisition, creation, preservation and support of community housing” would change to add “rehabilitation and restoration” of community housing.
 
Under the bill, cities and towns that received a grant from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development or Massachusetts Broadband Institute to construct a municipally owned broadband network would be able to provide internet access to a location in an adjacent city or town, and would be able to accept or acquire easements to provide that access.
 

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