The Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate will appoint a six-member joint committee to determine the final version of competing economic development bills that offer millions of dollars in grants to colleges and universities, tax credits to start-ups, and funds for worker retraining efforts.
The committee, expected to be appointed as early as Monday, will have until July 31, when the Legislature adjourns, to reach a compromise.
Though the two bills have much in common, the Senate version, passed Thursday night, includes $5 million in worker retraining funds, compared with $10 million in the House version. The grants are designed to address a “skills gap” cited by employers who say they have jobs available, but have difficulty finding workers with the skills to do them. Many of these jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.
A portion of the funding would also benefit older workers, a group struggling with long-term unemployment.
Lewis Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the funding would help many unemployed workers find jobs. More than 200,000 Massachusetts residents are currently unemployed.
‘We’re in extremely hard times, and this might be able to train as many as 1,500 people.’
“If we can get $5 million, let alone $10 million, it’s a step forward,” Finfer said. “We’re in extremely hard times, and this might be able to train as many as 1,500 people. And there’s a much bigger need than that.”
The Senate version also includes a provision allowing the state revenue commissioner to annually designate a two-day weekend in August for a sales tax holiday that suspends the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. The measure, which retailers see as a boost to their sales, is expected to cost the state an estimated $20.8 million in tax revenues.
A tax credit for new businesses in Massachusetts is also included in the Senate version. The measure will exempt start-ups from the state’s corporate excise tax for three years at a cost of $15 million to $19 million in lost tax revenues.
The Senate version also includes $2 million in funding for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-public economic development agency, to support paid internships with technology start-ups and other companies. It also establishes an Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program that will provide grants for technical assistance for small and mid-size manufacturers.
Both versions of the bill include funding for a Scientific and Technology Research and Development Matching Grant Fund, a program offering public and private universities funds for projects to boost their chances of winning federal research grants.
The House bill allocated $25 million for the program; the Senate version, $50 million.
Both bills also authorize spending for a program that offers financing for roads, water and sewer service, and other infrastructure for new development projects.
State Representative Joseph F. Wagner, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, said such “targeted capital investment” helped create Fan Pier, a 23-acre commercial development on the South Boston Waterfront and could spur more development.
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