Mass. House Leaders Tie Jobs Bill To Innovation Economy

Positioning job creation at the top of his "to-do-list" with just over two months remaining on the legislative calendar, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and top House Democrats outlined a bill Monday afternoon that DeLeo said would allow the state to "directly compete with and outshine many of our closest rivals."

The bill includes a new $50 million innovation investment fund to support research and development at universities and research centers where House leaders say the state's economic strengths lie. Projects would need to secure at least $3 for every $1 of state funding provided through the new capital program.

A new manufacturing grant program to support small businesses, increased funding to advance large economic projects, and expanded efforts to expedite permitting were also included in the job creation legislation presented Monday afternoon at the capitol with labor and business leaders.

In addition to several initiatives addressing small business capital needs, the bill also calls for $2 million to match stipends in the private sector for tech startup interns and a two-year extension on state and local permits for projects that have been unable to move forward due to tight credit markets.

"We take steps, important steps, to send the nation and the world a message that Massachusetts is still the home of invention and innovation," DeLeo said.

The bill's announcement comes almost 17 months into the legislative session and with just 11 weeks remaining until lawmakers are schedule to recess from formal sessions to focus on re-election campaigns.

The presentation of the bill in the House Members' Lounge rendered the committee process a mere formality. Organizers said members of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee were not scheduled to finish voting on the bill until Tuesday morning. The bill itself was not available following the presentation and key details, such as expansion of the so-called I-cubed program that shares development risks among the private and public sectors, were not available late Monday.

By outlining the bill, the House also preempted a forthcoming report due on June 27 from a job creation commission chaired by Rep. Joseph Wagner and Sen. Karen Spilka. Wagner said this bill is just one of many "building blocks" that have been passed by the Legislature and will continue to be built upon.

Wagner, who did not provide a bottom line for the bill's costs in his remarks and declined to offer an estimate for the number of jobs that would be created, said the bill will be referred to the House Bonding Committee and then Ways and Means before eventually reaching the floor for debate.

DeLeo contrasted Bay State budget-balancing efforts with California, noting tax increases under consideration there and a $32.4 billion budget approved last month by the Massachusetts House that did not include higher taxes.

The Winthrop Democrat noted support for the bill from a "broad pro-jobs coalition" that included representatives from labor, business and higher education institutions in attendance. There was, however, a noticeable absence of Senate members.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki, who also attended the event, said the governor had committed to include the some of the bill's spending initiatives, including the innovation investment fund, in the administration's capital borrowing program.


"There are elements here that are going to provide a jumpstart for construction, manufacturing, creative economy, innovative economy all around the state and it's a great time for it. We are recovering stronger and faster than the rest of the nation, but we still have a lot of work to do here," Bialecki said.

After noting that DeLeo had read from his talking points in outlining the bill, Wagner, the co-chair of the Economic Development Committee, said DeLeo had charged him at the start of the two-year session to help make it "about jobs" and pointed to the bill as a follow-up to expanded gaming legislation.

The Massachusetts jobless rate in March was 6.5 percent, down from 8.2 percent in November 2010, when voters here and nationally sent an election message that they wanted a focus on job creation.

A Chicopee Democrat, Wagner, like other lawmakers representing cities outside of the Greater Boston area, pointed out that jobless rates outside the Boston area are higher than the statewide average.

Aides to DeLeo also indicated that protecting stability in the tax code had been prioritized over potential business tax reductions, and Wagner said stakeholders who weighed in on the bill had not prioritized tax cuts.

"Taxes never led, not with anyone who came through the door. That's not to say it's not important, that's not to say it's not on their agenda, but I will tell you that's not what they led with coming through the door," Wagner said.

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President Paul Guzzi plugged seed funding as critical to growing the economy and praised the bill's focus on "building the talent pipeline" through its focus on boosting the use of interns.

"This sets the tone for the business community and those who create jobs to do just that," Guzzi said.

Dan O'Connell, president of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, said the bill encourages academic research and helps provide infrastructure for projects, calling it "an excellent bill that does a lot with a little."

Tim Sullivan, the legislative director for the AFL-CIO, said the bill's emphasis on workforce development and skills training will allow manufacturing employers to grow their businesses in Massachusetts rather than look to relocate.

He also applauded the ability of business and labor to come together with both the House and Patrick administration on a plan to promote job growth.

"The emphasis on retaining manufacturing jobs and the jobs that we have here is just as important as creating new jobs. Getting proper skills training is the same as getting a new job," Sullivan said, suggesting the investments made by the bill would help fill the "middle skills" gap in Massachusetts.

In the absence of a Democrat-led legislative effort on job creation, House and Senate Republicans in February outlined the contours of a "jobs package" that was filed as five separate bills in the House focused on energy, health care, business regulations, taxes and education.

While some of those ideas - including competitive bidding for long-term renewable energy contracts, medical malpractice reform, and college credits for military training - have wound their way into other bills on the move in the Legislature, the Republican caucus also proposed a thorough review of business regulations, a cap on commercial vehicle licensing fees and a relaxing of the rules requiring businesses to offer health insurance to their workers.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, in February, said there was "no pride of authorship" if House Democrats wanted to include some of the GOP ideas in bills of their own.

"If I, in this still-bad economy, am running for reelection … I don't want to run on just what we've done so far because we really haven't done that much," Jones said at the time.

Among the bill's other provisions:

-- Extending tax credits for two more years, until 2015, to allow redevelopment of brownfields;

-- Creates a tax credit program under which credits would be competitively awarded based on "community improvement efforts."

-- Requiring small business loan review boards to offer feedback, including information about alternative financing programs, to small business owners when their loan requests are denied;

-- Requiring the state pension fund to invest at least $100 million, up from the current $50 million, in institutions that make capital available to small businesses;

-- Creation of a local infrastructure development program to help cities and towns leverage private funding for infrastructure improvements needed to support economic development;

-- Tasks a new Mass Creative Economy Network with creating a mentoring network and a way for creative economy businesses to be certified;

-- Consolidates six programs into a MassWorks Infrastructure Program, the state's latest effort at "one-stop shopping";

-- Creation of a new Innovation Investment Fund that would offer matching grants to research and development projects, with eligible projects needing to secure at least $3 for every $1 of state money;

-- Establishes and funds a Talent Pipeline Program that would match dollar-for-dollar stipends for interns at tech and innovation start-ups and "builds connections to venture capital financing.

This program aired on May 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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