Newton Mayor and MMA President Ruthanne Fuller (left) testifies in support of the FORWARD Act with MMA Legislative Director Dave Koffman.

At a May 9 hearing before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, the MMA and local officials testified in support of Gov. Charlie Baker’s recently filed economic development bill, known as the FORWARD Act, which targets downtowns, infrastructure and other investments.

The $3.5 billion bill (H. 4720) would use $2.3 billion of the Commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan Act funding and more than $1.2 in capital bond authorizations. The bill would provide nearly $970 million to revitalize local downtowns and communities, with more than $550 million for the MassWorks program and $108 million in downtown recovery grants.

All 351 municipalities would receive some form of aid through the bill (named “An Act investing in future opportunities for resiliency, workforce, and revitalized downtowns”). Newton Mayor and MMA President Ruthanne Fuller hailed the bill’s inclusiveness.

“It’s going to touch every single resident across the state,” she said. “Everything in this act is urgent, transformational, smart and inclusive. … Passing this now means we’ll get money to work before the ARPA time restrictions kick in.”

The bill includes $104 million for the Clean Water Trust Fund, $270 million to support affordable housing production, $20 million for municipal workforce training grants, and $62 million for broadband infrastructure and “middle mile” grants. The bill would also formally establish the MassCyberCenter.

The MMA has advocated for swift passage, 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.

On May 10, the administration gave a presentation about the FORWARD bill during the Local Government Advisory Commission meeting (download here).

The governor filed the bill on April 21.

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