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House Leaders Outline Bill Aimed At Boosting Jobs

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A House jobs bill unveiled Tuesday that would pump money into computer science education and clean up polluted lots left out a visa program, local liquor license control and non-compete legislation that Gov. Deval Patrick says are critical proposals to hasten economic development.

As far as the costs of the bill, House Chairman of Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Joseph Wagner said the House bill was in the "ballpark" of what he said was Patrick's $100 million jobs bill, but somewhat more modest. State tax collections for April and May have fallen since Patrick introduced his bill, Speaker Robert DeLeo said, and the bill uses surplus revenues from the fiscal year.

The House bill would create a tax credit for angel investments, which Wagner said would have a $5 million statewide cap and would sunset after five years, allowing lawmakers to assess the program and determine if it should be renewed. Angel investors invest their own money in startups for equity and typically make their investment earlier than venture capitalists, according to the Angel Capital Association.

The bill DeLeo presented Tuesday also sends $1.5 million to the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), with a 1-to-1 match from the private sector, for the development of a computer science program that could be used by public schools.

"When many of us standing up here were growing up, it was reading, writing, 'rithmetic. Well, now it's computer science," said Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat, flanked by executives from Google and Microsoft as well as business group and labor leaders. Wagner told reporters he thinks communities "will want to opt-in" to MassCAN's computer science program.

While Patrick believes greater local control over alcohol licensing can boost economic development, Wagner said allowing municipalities to determine the number of alcohol licenses would have economic benefits and potential drawbacks.

"I do have concerns about leaving the matter solely to communities to decide without the added level of check and balance that is provided by legislative consideration through the home-rule petition process. Communities are not precluded from issuing a license in support of development that may include restaurants," Wagner said. He said, "On balance, I think it's a healthier approach to leave the process as is."

Lawmakers regularly pass special legislation granting alcohol license for specific restaurants or neighborhoods. On Monday, the Senate passed two bills granting a total of 16 all alcohol licenses for Danvers and Peabody.

Patrick backed a global entrepreneur in residence visa issued through universities that would allow foreign business people to remain in Massachusetts and sought to outlaw non-compete agreements in contracts, which limit an employee's ability to leave a job for a competitor - something startups have embraced while larger businesses have opposed. Neither proposal was included in DeLeo's bill.

Wagner said the majority of feedback he heard about non-competes was in support of them, and said he believes there is a middle ground between preserving the status quo and outlawing the contract clause.

"There's clearly some other place potentially, but we're not even close to that. I think that's a dialogue for another day," Wagner said.

DeLeo said the state is well poised for economic success, with 45 percent of the residents achieving a bachelor's degree or higher, which he said is more than any other state, and enviable business clusters such as Kendall Square in Cambridge.

"The challenge is to now broaden the success that we've already seen," DeLeo said.

Tax collections in fiscal 2014 have exceeded budget estimates, a year after the Legislature passed new gasoline and tobacco taxes. The budgets passed by the House and Senate that are awaiting reconciliation include no tax increases, and both branches backed a tax amnesty program for scofflaws to avoid fines.

In January, the income tax ticked down from 5.25 percent to 5.2 percent. And with pending budget bills relying on lower amounts of one-time revenues, lawmakers appear more receptive to tax cuts and credits, with the angel investor credit representing a new proposal.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones said the bill was unimpressive, and said if House leaders really prioritized the economy they would have moved a jobs bill before the end of the two-year session. Formal sessions end July 31.

"It's sort of like ordering a steak dinner and you end up with a piece of meatloaf," Jones told the News Service. He said, "It's a pretty small slimmed-down bill."

Jones, who said would need to read the bill to determine if there is anything he finds objectionable in it, questioned the timing of the bill's release, arriving right before a contentious hearing on a gun bill DeLeo filed last week.

"Why the timing?" Jones said. Jones suggested Republicans could file amendments related to regulatory reform, targeted tax credits, minimum corporate taxes and other issues.

The bill would establish a theater tax credit, which would only be available to shows that premier on Broadway within 12 months of a production in Massachusetts. The state's film tax credit is regularly dressed down by critics who say it is a giveaway to Hollywood, though its supporters say the film tax credit has led major productions to Massachusetts, creating good jobs.

Under the bill proposed Tuesday, the state's aging industrial centers known as gateway cities would be able to tap a $10 million Transformative Development Fund, supporting various types of development and the creation of collaborative workspaces.

The bill would also fund middle-skills job training with $15 million intended to train 4,000 workers over four years, and it would add $10 million to the brownfields redevelopment fund, which provides grants that help communities clean up polluted sites, which can throw up roadblocks to development.

Working within Federal Reserve Bank of Boston program, the bill would provide $1.5 million in matching grant money for 19 gateway cities and Somerville for technical assistance, and it would send $5 million toward affordable housing.

DeLeo spent a full two minutes introducing the business and labor officials, as well as House lawmakers, who joined him for the announcement, and discussed a "prosperity agenda" that extends beyond Metro Boston. DeLeo will visit western Massachusetts Thursday morning to discuss the bill, Wagner said.

The bill also helps further the "talent pipeline," established in a 2012 economic development law, which matches stipends for interns at technology startups. The bill replenishes the fund with $1 million, and provides another $1 million for a mentoring program, connecting people newer to technology entrepreneurship with others who are established in the field.

The bill would send $2 million to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the Innovation Institute Fund, and it would provide $2 million to fund the use of "big data" and analytics. Wagner told reporters that the grants could allow for better data integration, improving the efficiency of transportation.

"We have an ability to gather data in unprecedented amounts," Wagner said.

Last year, business associations and technology companies convinced lawmakers to repeal a "tech tax" on certain computer services they had just approved. Tech sector, big business and labor representatives stood with DeLeo during his jobs bill unveiling.

"I am particularly excited that enhancing computer science education has been made a priority in the bill. Currently less than 1 percent of our high school students are taking the Computer Science AP exam - a troubling statistic that is hampering expansion and job growth in our tech sector," Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council CEO Tom Hopcroft said in a statement.

DeLeo said the bill would reach the House floor "soon."

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