House Passes Economic Development Bill

I am pleased to report that last week, the Economic Development Bill that I originally authored passed the Massachusetts House of Representatives. 

This omnibus bill contains provisions to equitably address our housing crisis, support vibrant neighborhoods, strengthen Massachusetts competitiveness, and create pipelines to higher paying jobs and careers for Massachusetts residents. The bill also contains a provision to legalize sports gaming, which as drafted, is estimated to raise $50 million in new revenue fo the Commonwealth.

With the passage of this bill, the Commonwealth stands ready to buttress important sectors of our economy such as the restaurant, arts, culture and tourism industries that have been most adversely affected by COVID-19; it gives many displaced workers an opportunity to rejoin the Massachusetts workforce. This legislation also takes an enormous step in providing housing choices for urban and rural areas of the state by amending zoning laws and making unprecedented monetary investments in housing as well as a major outlay in economic empowerment for minority communities.

These expenditures relative to economic empowerment, at a time of decreasing revenues, are fueled by the legalization of sports betting which accomplishes other critical goals: bringing a black market activity into the light and, thereby, reducing ancillary crimes, and protecting the Commonwealth’s investments in the gaming industry and the high technology software design innovation sector.

The bill authorizes $459 million in bonding to invest in housing, economic development, and recovery across the Commonwealth. These economic investments span across industries, from rural, micro, and small businesses to high tech research and development. Investments in housing aim to both retain and increase access housing that is affordable for the residents of the Commonwealth. Additionally, among other grant programs funded or established by this legislation, it creates a PPP loan type program for Massachusetts, administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, with 2/3s of the funds dedicated for minority, women, and veteran owned businesses.

To improve availability of housing, the bill authorizes the Housing Choice concept, reducing the voting requirement for a range of housing-related zoning changes and special permits at the local level, from a two-thirds threshold to a simple majority. In order to provide protections for tenants, the legislation also creates a local option for the tenant right to purchase/first right of refusal to purchase buildings landlords put up for sale, increases the low-income housing tax credit from $20 million to $40 million, and requires DHCD to notify tenants they have a right to mediation with landlords prior to the eviction process.

The bill establishes the Rural Jobs Tax Credit for businesses that make a capital contribution to a rural growth fund, which will be established within the Office of Business Development. It allows for the creation of Tourism Destination Marketing Districts, which, following local approval, can add an additional 2% surcharge on room occupancy taxes to fund tourism marketing activities within these districts. The legislation also creates a Cultural Council Recovery Commission to review and develop recommendations for the recovery, promotion and continued growth and vitality of the cultural and creative sector in the commonwealth.

Also included in the legislation is a system for legal sports gaming in Massachusetts, enabling the independent Massachusetts Gaming Commission to grant in-person licenses to existing casinos and racing facilities. Mobile applications and casinos are also eligible to receive mobile gaming licenses. In addition to licensing fees, the state will receive 15% of all sports betting proceeds – estimated at $50 million annually – with an additional 1% for games played in Massachusetts going to a fund to ensure the integrity of the game.

The bill is now in conference committee. Please stay tuned for more information about the final piece of legislation as it makes its way to Governor Baker’s desk.