At a hearing today before the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, the MMA and local officials testified in support of the economic development bond bill, originally filed by Gov. Charlie Baker as the FORWARD Act, which targets downtowns, infrastructure and other investments.

The governor’s $3.5 billion proposal combined the state’s remaining $2.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding with $1.2 billion in bonding. Earlier this month, the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies stripped the ARPA funding from the bill. The updated bill contains only the $1.2 billion in borrowing, while maintaining its focus on housing and infrastructure.

Newton Mayor and MMA President Ruthanne Fuller discussed the importance of the infrastructure funding in the bill, as well as the inclusion of funding for the Clean Water Trust Fund. She highlighted the problem of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in the environment, which have contaminated water supplies and present significant cleanup challenges for communities.

Fuller said the legislation “will help us ensure the safety of our drinking water. … The challenges of PFAS have made this even more important.”

Fuller also emphasized the importance of spending the state’s remaining ARPA funding.

“Please put these funds to work,” she said.

The current version of the bill includes $400 million for MassWorks grants, $104 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund, $268 million to support affordable housing production, and $50 million for broadband infrastructure. The bill would also formally establish the Massachusetts Cybersecurity Center.

The MMA has advocated for passage of the bill, as well as the inclusion of state ARPA funding in this bill or another by the end of the legislative session. The urgency on ARPA is in part to avoid the possibility of the U.S. Congress pulling back any of the state’s remaining $2.3 billion in ARPA allocations if the funds are not yet committed to projects. Federal ARPA rules require funds to be obligated by the end of 2024 and expended by the end of 2026.

Similar large-scale economic development bills have traditionally been done at the end of a two-year legislative session, and Gov. Baker told the State House News Service that he was anticipating getting a bill back from the Legislature for his signature in early August.

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