Governor Maura Healey announced Thursday that she is filing her first two pieces of legislation, one of which is a $987 million “immediate needs” bond bill targeting housing and economic development.
The wide-ranging, nearly billion-dollar “immediate needs” bond bill would dedicate $400 million for MassWorks, a program created in 2010 that makes grants available to cities and towns for infrastructure projects. Her bill would continue the funding stream for MassWorks and other programs, preventing key programs from running out of money.
Healey, who has highlighted economic development as a top priority for her nascent administration, said she filed the bill “to ensure critical housing and economic development programs across the state can continue to serve people in Massachusetts without interruption.”
Healey’s announcement comes as the state’s pot of MassWorks money is running dry, despite former Governor Charlie Baker asking the Legislature to keep funding the program after he left office.
His $400 million request got scuttled when the Legislature adjourned from formal sessions last summer without an agreement on a massive economic development bill.
“Without further authorization, no new MassWorks grants can be awarded,” Healey wrote in her letter to lawmakers, in which she calls the bond bill “urgently needed.” The bill also includes dollars to match federal funding, which she said improves the state’s competitiveness for grants.
“Not having matching funds available may take Massachusetts out of the running for once-in-a-generation opportunities,” she wrote.
Healey unveiled the proposal during a swing through western Massachusetts, where she and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll visited two sites that benefitted from MassWorks grants — a converted cotton mill in North Adams and a former jute-making complex in Ludlow.
Both are now home to mixed-use projects, built in part with funding from the program, which was created to speed up housing production and create jobs throughout the state. Last year, grant recipients from Pittsfield to Provincetown used the money to widen and repave roadways and bike lanes, replace aging water lines, and support affordable housing developments.
In the summer, Healey traveled to North Adams to attend FreshGrass music festival, and had dinner at a restaurant inside Greylock Works, the converted mill. She said as attorney general, she visited the mill when it was “a shell of a building.”
“Now we get to come in the space and see this incredible, incredible example of what’s possible when people match vision, along with investment,” she said.
The MassWorks grants can be large, like the $32.5 million sent to Worcester roughly four years ago to help make way for Polar Park, the home to the Worcester Red Sox, or small, such as the $1 million sent to the town of Ashburnham last year to make the sidewalks on its main streets more accessible.
Massachusetts’ infrastructure is among the most antiquated in the country, said April Anderson, a consultant who helped create MassWorks when she worked in the Deval Patrick administration as an assistant economic development secretary.
Without a resource like MassWorks, the development community absorbs the cost for what is actually a public expense.
“Almost any project you build in Massachusetts requires an infrastructure upgrade of some kind,” said Anderson, who now helps advise on municipal projects and MassWorks applications. “Without the state investment, most of what you see across the state will not happen. Period.”
Healey’s bill would also allocate $110 million to continue various housing efforts and $48 million for repairs and updates to public housing units. She said these housing-focused dollars would affect 80,000 residents across more than 230 cities and towns.
It proposes that the state allocate $34 million for a program that redevelops vacant or underutilized properties, $5 million to support community planning in small towns and cities, and $9 million to improve broadband infrastructure in central and western Massachusetts.
“This bill will enable us to continue critical infrastructure work necessary to facilitate economic development in all 351 cities and towns across the Commonwealth,” said Yvonne Hao, the newly-appointed Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. “With renewed authorization for our key programs, the Healey-Driscoll Administration can continue to build housing, create jobs, and help communities thrive.”
In addition to the bond bill, Healey on Thursday also filed a separate, second bill that would authorize the state to borrow $400 million to help improve roads and bridges over the next two years.
“These are the types of innovative projects our administration wants to support across the state,” Healey said.
The Healey administration said it plans to file a more comprehensive bond bill later in the session.