Ash Outlines Jobs Bill

By Michael P. Norton

Baker administration officials appealed to lawmakers Tuesday to approve $610 million in new economic development funds, promising the money would be put to work for growth and prosperity throughout Massachusetts and plugged a sales tax holiday to boost summer retail sales.

“It’s always interesting to me how a small amount of money can unlock interest in land,” Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash told members of the Economic Development Committee, referring to the stimulative effects of programs funded or recapitalized in Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill (H 4297).

Secretary Jay Ash listed the “basic tenets” of the administration’s economic development bill on Tuesday: “It’s about communities, it’s about business growth, and it’s about prosperity for people.”

Secretary Jay Ash listed the “basic tenets” of the administration’s economic development bill on Tuesday: “It’s about communities, it’s about business growth, and it’s about prosperity for people.”

Appealing for greater powers to attract bigger employers, Ash was bullish about Massachusetts, describing employers looking for cheap labor as a dated idea.

“They have increasingly found that talent is an important thing to pay for,” he said.

Despite its workforce advantages, Massachusetts is still sometimes outbid and out-positioned by other states competing for businesses and jobs, Ash said. He said he’s working with a company with $200 million in business at stake and called for passage of an economic development incentive measure that he called an“extraordinary opportunity,” saying it could serve as a powerful tool to attract jobs to Massachusetts.

Committee co-chair Sen. Eric Lesser asked if aspects of the bill were intended to entice Amazon, calling the company’s expansion “the elephant in the room.”

“Nothing in this bill is about the Amazon project,” Ash said, referring to incentives that may be needed to attract the company’s second headquarters.

“The commitment that the governor has made to legislative leaders is that to the extent that we make a proposal to Amazon we will come to the legislative leadership and talk about what that proposal might look like,” Ash said. “Frankly, if you put the sum of all this together, some states have multiplied it by ten andofferedittoAmazon.So I’m not saying that we’re going to offer Amazon a dollar, I’m not saying we’re going to offer them six hundred million dollars.

I’m not saying we’re going to offer them six billion dollars, but none of these programs are really meant to support what we would do with Amazon.”

Speaking in general to incentives that might be needed to attract large private sector projects, Ash said areas of potential public investment may include highway interchanges, water infrastructure, utilities, and property grading efforts. Companies can also be relieved of other potential obligations, he said.

Ash took encouragement in the fact that the panel opted to hold a hearing within a month of the bill’s filing and told committee members he’d looked over a roster of the panel before the hearing. “I recalled being in every single one of your districts,” Ash said, emphasizing the administration’s preference for “regional equity” and saying that while the bill was led by the governor it reflects priorities of lawmakers, based on conversations with them.

The secretary outlined economic development programs that he said are on track to eventually run out of funds unless legislation is approved. Dredging, broadband, small business assistance, and funds for public infrastructure associated with private development are among the bill’s many areas of focus.

The bill also makes daily fantasy sports permanently legal and establishes a two-day annual sales tax holiday. Tax holidays “cause people to spend more,” Ash said, and businesses and consumers will benefit from advertising, staffing and planning perspectives if the holiday is predictable.

Lesser said that while he sees enthusiasm for a tax holiday, he sees value in the state being able to decide each year whether to have a tax holiday, which requires the state to forego more than $20 million in sales tax revenues the year it is offered.

“The studies have indicated that the sales tax holiday does result in more spending and a net bene t to businesses,” Ash said.

Several provisions of the bill give new powers to local housing authorities, proposals that MassHousing Executive Director Chrystal Kornegay said would let the organizations attract private investment and behave more like community development corporations.

Other measures in the bill would let housing authorities retain property disposition proceeds if they are used to reinvest in capital needs of state-aided housing, and allow municipalities to use Community Preservation Act funds for housing redevelopment activities, including site preparation.

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