U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (center) and Ed Markey (left) speak with mayors from across the Commonwealth at the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association’s business meeting on Jan. 19 before addressing the MMA’s Annual Business Meeting.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey spoke with local officials at the MMA Annual Business Meeting on Jan. 19 about the impact of the government shutdown on Massachusetts and their work to secure funding for cities and towns, from protecting Community Development Block Grants to increasing science and health funding that supports the Commonwealth’s economy.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh also spoke at the business meeting, held during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston, focusing on education funding, the importance of municipal unity, and how the issues facing Massachusetts cities and towns mirror the problems that municipalities are grappling with across the nation.

Warren said 8,200 federal workers in Massachusetts were not being paid because of the shutdown, which temporarily ended a week after the Annual Meeting. Before the meeting, she said, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer expressed her worry that the city would run out of funding for free breakfast and lunch for children from low-income homes.

Markey said he and Warren are strong advocates for programs such as the National Institutes of Health, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and the National Science Foundation. (Massachusetts is the second-largest beneficiary of NIH funding and top beneficiary for CEC and NSF funding.) When proposals came out to cut funding by 10 percent, he and Warren fought to increase funding by 10 percent for each program.

Markey noted that clean energy is a top 10 employment sector in Massachusetts, with 100,000 jobs, while off the shore of Massachusetts is the second-fastest warming body of water on the planet.

“We are the science experiment here,” he said. “Except for the Arctic, we’re second. So we have to prepare for it and build the new job sector where we save all of creation by investing in massive job creation.”

Warren also pointed out that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut the Community Development Block Grant program, and that she and Markey worked to secure an increase in the 2019 budget, along with an 85 percent increase for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program and $700 million for loan forgiveness for public service employees such as firefighters, police officers, teachers and municipal employees.

On the ongoing problem of rising housing costs, Warren promoted her bill, the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, which would restore the estate tax to what it was in 2009, a 55 percent rate at a threshold of $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples, with higher rates at higher property value thresholds. She said the higher rates would affect only the 10,000 wealthiest American households, and the progressive tax bill would pay for the construction of 3.2 million new housing units. The proposed bill would include a $10 billion competitive grant program to help communities that build affordable housing to repair roads, parks, transportation systems and schools.

“It’s got a lot of pieces to try and help best practices in housing laws and development, get communities to work together, and to help us with the infrastructure to support new housing,” she said.

Markey said cities and towns have a fight ahead about the Federal Communications Commission’s tentative conclusion that all cable-related “in-kind” contributions amount to “franchise fees,” which would have a dramatically adverse effect on funding for public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels.

The senator recalled when he and Warren held a hearing in Lawrence last fall about the gas explosions that rocked that city, Andover and North Andover last year, the news stations covered only a brief portion of the hearing.

“But the hearing went on for four hours,” Markey said. “Who continued to cover it so people in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover can see it? The local cable access channel.”

Walsh urged his fellow local officials to support the Promise Act that would guarantee a minimum amount of state aid to all school systems statewide.

The mayor also recalled when he was helping candidates in other areas of the country like Iowa last year and talking to people about the issues important to them, like transportation, economic development to create opportunities, housing and the opioid crisis.

“I realized that we’re really not different as a country,” Walsh said. “Because those issues I just mentioned are the issues we’re all working on. … Whether you live in Boston or Gardner, we have families in identical situations, struggling to make ends meet. At this association, that’s what we want to do.”

Written by