The Chamber’s advocacy efforts came to a head this past month, as Beacon Hill took up legislation addressing education and support for the Commonwealth’s growing tourism industry. As is often the case, both these proposals moved through the Legislature with incredible speed, requiring a quick reaction from the Chamber’s staff.
Regarding funding for public schools, the Joint Committee on Education released a proposal in October that would invest an additional $1.5 billion into the K through 12 system over seven years. These funds would be directed primarily towards schools with high concentrations of low income families, students struggling with learning disabilities, and English language learners. The last such review of the Commonwealth’s education system was conducted nearly thirty years ago, so the Chamber recognizes the need for additional funding. As such, we have worked hard with partners from across the state to ensure this money is invested responsibly, in a manner that addresses achievement gaps and produces high school graduates who are college and career ready. While proposals to expand career readiness programming met with some resistance, accountability measures that we supported were successfully inserted into the House’s draft of the proposal. The House and the Senate each passed drafts of this legislation over the last month, and a conference committee has since been elected to negotiate the differences.
Almost simultaneously, the House and Senate filed competing supplemental budget bills to close out the state’s 2019 fiscal year. In the event that the state’s revenues exceed what was projected for a given year, a supplemental budget is utilized to disperse those funds, address areas where state spending is insufficient, and invest in the Commonwealth’s stabilization- or “rainy day”- fund. Recognizing a need for increased support of the tourism industry, the Chamber worked with the regional delegation and advocated for language which would require that gaming revenues allocated to the Tourism Trust Fund be released by November. As of this writing, the funds are being withheld by the Administration, with no clear timeline for release. In addition, the annual budget passed in the summer did not include funding to support the state’s roadside visitor information centers, including the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center which Visit North Central Massachusetts operates on Route 2 in Lancaster. The Chamber advocated for an amendment to the supplemental budget to set aside a modest $250,000 to support these eleven facilities across the state.
Now that both houses of the Legislature have passed their own drafts of these bills, the two branches will negotiate the differences between them before submitting final bills to the Governor, who may approve or veto them. Though this stage of the process is conducted mostly behind closed doors, the Chamber will continue to monitor developments and advocate on behalf of the business community.
Among the legislative priorities which will likely rise to the top following these items is an upcoming transportation and infrastructure debate. Governor Baker recently released an omnibus transportation bill, addressing issues from repairing outdated bridges to improving the Commonwealth’s high way system. As always, the Chamber has been active on this front, serving as one of the few regional chambers invited to join the Massachusetts Business Coalition for Transportation, advocating in favor of regional equity and against initiatives which would hamper the region’s economic growth. We have also followed proposals to improve rail service closely, drafting testimony on the matter to the MBTA Fiscal Management and Control Board ahead of a potential vote on the matter. As this broad debate takes shape, the Chamber will remain abreast of the conversation and continue to advocate on behalf of North Central Massachusetts and its business community.
If you have any questions regarding this or any of the Chamber’s other policy efforts, please reach out to Christopher McDermott, public affairs manager, at email@example.com or (978) 353-7600 ext. 224.