Our take on the end of the legislative session

Our take on the end of the legislative session

At the end of this extraordinary legislative session, the team at MassINC sends a note of gratitude to the many partners who contributed to our various efforts over the past year. This includes funders, who generously underwrite the research; civic leaders, who selflessly lend their time and expertise to inform our work; and most especially, legislators, who write bills and build support for policy change among their peers. Your partnership is the fuel that powers all that we accomplish.

We hope that you find time to rest and rejuvenate these last few weeks of August. Please enjoy the respite knowing that we are deeply appreciative of your partnership.

Below you’ll find a short synopsis of where things stand as the dust settles. Rest assured that we will be back to you in the fall with more on the status of these efforts and priorities for the 2023-2024 legislative session.

Early College
Buoyed by impressive initial outcomes data, MassINC doubled down on our Early College expansion push this session. New data presented by DESE in June show these programs are exceeding the high bar we had set for their performance. Consistent with these impressive results, the FY 23 budget proposals from the Baker administration, the House, and the Senate all called for doubling funding for Early College next year. This steadfast support across the three branches sends an important signal to educators that they should keep growing their programs. With these resources in hand, projections suggest fall enrollment will increase by more than 50 percent for the second year in a row.

Increasing the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) was the top priority for Gateway City leaders this legislative session. We worked alongside them to win support for growing the program from the Baker administration and both branches. The economic development bill that stalled in conference committee would triple the size of the program to $30 million annually and provide a $57 million increase in FY 23 to help move backlogged projects. HDIP is critical to addressing the state’s housing production challenges. We feel certain that legislators remain committed to finding a way to help Gateway Cities put the tool to work as soon as possible.

Equitable Entrepreneurship
MassINC kicked off the 2021-2022 legislative session with a report calling for efforts to close the state’s large racial and ethnic gaps in business ownership by the end of the decade. Rep. Antonio Cabral and Sen. Eric Lesser introduced An Act to Promote Inclusive Entrepreneurship and Economic Justice, a package of forward-thinking policies to help the state achieve this goal. The economic development and bonding committee versions of the economic development bill contained these provisions.

Unfortunately, they did not make it into the bill released by the ways and means committees. Still, advancing these new ideas through committee in the first session that they were filed represents progress. We are hopeful that the legislature will act on them in the coming session, along with our recent proposals for advancing inclusive municipal contracting with changes to state procurement law.

Digital Equity
In December, Governor Baker signed legislation directing $50 million to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to create a new digital equity fund. As we described in our June report, these resources are essential to building capacity for planning and executing digital equity strategies in regions across the state. Eight months later, MBI has yet to issue RFPs to begin the process of releasing these funds. This is likely because they are in line behind all of the other agencies looking for ANF to approve ARPA spending plans, and the less established digital equity community lacks proponents to advocate for their interests.

MassINC will be working to draw attention to this need. Massachusetts must get these dollars into communities right away in order to position them to effectively spend the much more sizeable broadband funding that the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) provides.

Criminal Justice Reform
The biggest win for criminal justice reform in this session was the considerable resources devoted to community reinvestment. In FY23, the legislature appropriated $20 million to the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant Program (7002-2021). This comes on top of $8 million in FY 22 and $17 million in FY 21. Over the past three years, Massachusetts has sent $45 million to strengthen high incarceration rate communities.

Provisions in the FY23 budget requiring correctional agencies to report on their populations at the housing unit level also represent progress on justice reinvestment. Following a recommendation from the Correctional Expenditure Commission, this language provides transparency to help ensure that agencies allocate resources efficiently with their inmate counts steadily declining.

It is likely that no other state has done as much to reverse the adverse impacts of mass incarceration. It seems to be working. Massachusetts has cut its incarcerated population more than any other state, and it has avoided the uptick in crime that others have endured during the pandemic. However, the connection between these positive trends and our criminal justice reform policies is pure speculation. We know relatively little about the performance of the 2018 reform. Despite signs of progress this week, it seems we are still years away from gaining the data transparency the law set forth to allow researchers to gauge its impact.

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