On Nov. 10, the Senate passed a $3.82 billion bill to spend a significant portion of the state’s multi-billion dollar fiscal 2021 surplus and its allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act’s State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The Senate bill (S. 2564) includes several key priorities supported by the MMA, including investments in water and sewer infrastructure, environmental infrastructure, local and regional boards of public health, mental and behavioral health, housing and cybersecurity.

The Senate did not include an amendment for a one-time allocation of $50 million for the Chapter 90 local roads and bridges program.

The House passed its own ARPA/surplus bill on Oct. 29. House and Senate leaders now have until Nov. 17 to work out the differences between the two bills if they are to pass a final bill before the end of the legislative session. It is unclear whether a formal House-Senate conference committee will be named.

The following are highlights of the Senate bill:

The Senate included $600 million for housing programs, including targeted investments in supportive housing production, public housing capital improvements, homeownership assistance, the CommonWealth Building Program, and workforce rental housing production.

Environment and climate
The Senate bill includes $450 million for environmental infrastructure and development spending. Targeted investments include Marine Port Development and Offshore Wind, environmental infrastructure projects aimed at bolstering communities’ climate resilience, water and sewer infrastructure improvements, tree plantings, upgrades to state parks and recreational facilities, retrofitting affordable housing units for sustainable energy initiatives, and a geothermal technology pilot program.

Of the $450 million, $125 million would support environmental infrastructure programs, including the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program, and $20 million would be used for tree planting, with a focus on underserved communities.

The Senate’s $175 million for water and sewer infrastructure projects is $75 million more than in the House bill.

Economic development
House and Senate leadership agreed to two major workforce investments prior to the release of their spending plans: $500 million for premium pay bonuses for essential workers who worked in-person during the state of emergency, and $500 million for the state’s unemployment trust fund, intended to relieve pressure on small businesses.

The Senate bill would focus $750 million on workforce issues, including $500 million for premium pay bonuses for essential workers who worked in-person during the state of emergency, as well as funds for the Workforce Competitive Trust Fund and career technical institutes and vocational schools.

Health and human services
The Senate bill prioritizes investments in workforce initiatives for human services providers, including recruitment, retention and loan forgiveness programs.

A $250 million allocation for local and regional boards of public health would include a focus on expansion of shared public health services among one or more municipalities. Of the $250 million, $118.4 million would be used for standardizing and improving data collection, $37.5 million for training local boards and health department staff, and $95 million for a five-year program of direct funding and technical assistance to local boards of health.

The MMA is urging legislators to remove an amendment adopted in the Senate bill to transform local and regional public health, citing concerns about creating burdensome unfunded mandates for municipalities and adopting the provision without first conducting a full fiscal analysis.

The Senate bill does not include the $100 million proposed by the House for heating ventilation and cooling system grants to be distributed through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but would instead focus the $100 million in education investments on vocational school buildings.

The Senate bill includes $50 million to provide grants to municipalities for relief from debt incurred for the construction of broadband networks.

In June, Gov. Charlie Baker proposed his plan to spend roughly half of the Commonwealth’s State and Local Coronavirus Relief Funds, and in August, the governor filed a separate supplemental budget bill to spend a large portion of the fiscal 2021 state surplus. The Legislature passed a scaled-back supplemental budget — signed by the governor on Oct. 21 — that delayed decisions on how to spend much of the state surplus.

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