The Legislature on Tuesday passed an economic development bill that includes millions of dollars to retrain unemployed workers as well as variety of other spending and policy measures aimed at improving the state’s economy and creating jobs.
The bill establishes a $50 million fund to help the University of Massachusetts and other colleges and universities support research that could lead to new technologies and products. It provides millions in tax exemptions for business start-ups and gives consumers a holiday from the state’s sales tax for two days in August.
The 115-page bill overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate.
One highlight is the authorization of $5 million for the Workforce Competitive Trust Fund, a training program to address a “skills gap” cited by employers, who say they struggle to find workers with the skills that match open positions. Many of these jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.
Unemployed, underemployed, and older workers would qualify for the program, which would provide funding for retraining at community colleges, vocational schools, or in other programs to be determined by state officials.
The measure includes a sales tax holiday Aug. 11-12.
Lewis Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the program, which was funded in the last two years, could help as many as 2,500 people.
In June, unemployment in Massachusetts was at 6 percent, below the 8.2 percent national rate, but more than 200,000 people are still unemployed in the state.
“Giving several thousand people a chance to possibly get the skills they need to get a better-paying job and skills is a positive thing,” Finfer said. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who need this training, but this is a start.”
The legislation is designed to promote new businesses by exempting start-ups from the corporate excise tax for three years, which would cost the state an estimated $15 million to $19 million in revenue during that period. It also includes $2 million for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasipublic economic development agency, to support paid internships at technology start-ups and other companies.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo called attention to the jobs bill in May, when he published an open letter calling on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who created the social media website in his Harvard University dormitory room, to consider returning the company to Massachusetts.
‘‘To see a gentleman such as Mark Zuckerberg, who started here in Massachusetts and is now in California, it bothers me,’’ DeLeo told reporters at the time. ‘‘He should be here in Massachusetts.’’
While acknowledging that was unlikely, DeLeo and other supporters of the bill said they hoped it might spur other cutting-edge firms to make Massachusetts their home. The bill also establishes an Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program, offering grants for technical assistance to small and mid-size manufacturers. State officials also will organize a yearly summit to discuss major economic initiatives.
In addition, the bill designates Aug. 11 and 12 as a sales tax holiday, suspending the 6.25 percent levy. The measure, which retailers see as a boost to sales, is expected to cost the state $20.8 million in revenue. Restaurant meals, cars, motorboats, tobacco, and any single item priced at $2,500 or more are not part of the tax holiday.
A measure to expand the state’s bottle bill to require customers to pay bottle deposits on juice, water, and sports drinks was cut from the bill.
Proponents have said it would reduce litter and provide thousands of poor residents a way to make money by collecting bottles. Opponents have said they would view it as a type of tax increase.
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