Preliminary Thoughts on a 2022 Equitable Economic Development Bill

The Gateway Cities Journal

Seasonal patterns suggest a large economic development package will land on Beacon Hill during the month of March in an even year. We’ve heard lots of murmuring about whether the pandemic will upset this tradition. Those placing bets say Governor Baker will not pass up on an opportunity to capstone his administration’s many laudable economic development achievements. Sec. Kennealy can make a compelling case for filing a bill laden with policies to ensure that the unprecedented federal investments flowing into Massachusetts generate equitable growth.

The governor recently visited Lowell to tout the transformation that will occur with the nearly $10 billion Massachusetts will receive through the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill. He can help minority-owned businesses tap into the economic activity that this colossal stimulus will generate by advocating forcefully for long-overdue changes to state contracting law.

Last session Governor Baker provided this leadership with a standalone bill that would have made it easier for minority-owned businesses to receive subcontracts for state construction work. Unfortunately, these modest changes did not make it through the legislature in a chaotic, pandemic-disrupted session.

With both ARPA funding and the federal infrastructure dollars now flowing, there is an even more urgent need to ensure that the state and its municipalities can award construction contracts more equitably. Changes are also necessary to position Massachusetts to win competitive federal infrastructure grants, which will almost certainly require higher minority-owned business participation levels than we have achieved with existing constraints in state law creating a very unlevel playing field.

In addition to reforming state and local contracting policies, Governor Barker’s economic development package can support inclusive growth by drawing on a number of forward-thinking ideas that Sen. Eric Lesser and Rep. Antonio Cabral introduced in a Gateway Cities Caucus equitable entrepreneurship bill (S. 270/H. 505). This legislation includes commonsense and impactful transparency provisions, such as requiring all state housing and economic development programs to report annually on grants and tax credit awards to minority-owned businesses. Building off a California law, the bill also requires hospitals and universities to report on contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses each year.

A 2022 economic development package can also advance equitable growth in Gateway Cities by increasing the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) and supporting digital equity efforts, which will gain considerable momentum with the federal infrastructure funds. In the weeks ahead, we will be digging much deeper into these topics, as well as providing more specifics on what impactful changes to state and local contracting law would look like. Stay tuned!

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