Midsummer/midsession updates from the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute

The Gateway Cities Journal

Midsummer/midsession updates from the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute

With the first post-Question 1 budget under development and major tax reform packages moving through the legislature, these last few weeks leading up to the summer recess have been especially consequential for Gateway Cities. Here is our take on where things stand as we turn the corner into the second half of the 2023-2024 legislative session:

  • Traveling on clean energy from the leadership summit in Boston to the GCIIAS in Fitchburg. Gateway City mayors and municipal officials gathered at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last month for a timely annual leadership summit. In addition to reviewing current happenings on Beacon Hill, the meeting provided a forum for a relaxed forward-looking conversation on how Gateway Cities navigate the clean energy transition. This is new territory for us and a first taste of what cities need most to take advantage of federal funds to help low and moderate-income communities convert to clean energy technologies. We’ll be digging deeper into these meaty topics at the 11th Annual Gateway Cities Innovation Institute Awards and Summit (GCIIAS) on November 14th in Fitchburg. Keep an eye on your inbox for our formal Save the Date.
  • The FY24 budget grows Early College and public transit, but not small businesses. Legislators put their final stamp on the FY24 budget before decamping for summer recess this week. New funding for Early College and public transit stand out as the two major opportunities for Gateway Cities.

The budget will provide $28 million to fuel the expansion of Early College (plus an additional $5 million from Question 1 funds that will partially go to Early College programs). The legislature has once again demonstrated its commitment to significantly increasing investment in Early College as programs aggressively scale to serve more students. Particularly notable is an earmark for a new Early College nursing pathway at Westfield State. A first-of-its-kind in Massachusetts, this bold initiative offers an opportunity to show that Early College can help us tackle daunting workforce challenges in health care, as detailed in a recent MassINC research report.

Question 1 funds also deliver a long-awaited opportunity to significantly expand RTA bus service with $90 million in new funding. This large injection of resources will double state investment in RTAs to $184 million annually. From the new funds, $56 million will go out to agencies by formula. An additional $34 million will be awarded competitively ($15 million to support fare-free programs, $15 million for innovation grants, and $4 million for paratransit). The FY24 budget also provides funds to design a low-income fare program, an essential step to make commuter rail a viable mode of transportation for Gateway City residents with modest means.

We were surprised that the final FY 24 budget reduced funding for the Small Business Technical Assistance Grant (SBTAG) program. The Governor’s budget request included $7.5 million for this line item, as did the Senate budget. The House budget included $30 million. However, just $5 million was directed to the SBTAG program. The remaining $25 million would flow to the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation for direct grants to businesses that predominately focus on underserved markets. Unfortunately, the final budget includes just $5 million for SBTAG.

As described in a 2021 MassINC report, these resources are vital if we are to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem with the strength to close large racial and ethnic gaps in business ownership. We see investment in small business technical assistance as especially crucial at a time when federal investment is flowing into the state for infrastructure and renewable energy projects. To win these competitive federal grants, Massachusetts must demonstrate that it has robust supplier diversity initiatives in place.

  • Both branches recognize the crucial role that HDIP can play in meeting the state’s acute housing needs, but the wait continues. How the state helps Gateway Cities contribute meaningfully to the state’s housing production goals generated robust debate this spring and summer. Governor Healey and both branches advanced legislation to increase HDIP as part of the solution (the Governor and Senate in tax reform bills; the House in a supplemental budget). While these provisions have yet to make their way into law, we hope that this will happen promptly when legislators return in September.

The Gateway Cities Innovation Institute strengthens connections across communities and helps Gateway City leaders advance a shared policy agenda. Click here to sign up for the biweekly Gateway Cities Journal to receive updates on current policy issues impacting Gateway Cities across the state.

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