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Beacon Hill Working On Jobs Bill

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Massachusetts legislators are working on an economic development package they hope to pass before the legislative session ends next month.

   The Massachusetts House approved a jobs bill backed by House Speaker Robert Deleo on a 125-23 vote.  The bill provides more than $65 million for programs and initiatives, some new and some already in existence, designed to expand economic opportunities beyond the greater Boston area.

   There is $15 million for a new middle skills jobs training program to help 4,000 people get work over the next four years in the advanced manufacturing and IT fields.  The bill puts $10 million into the state’s brownfields redevelopment program. A job creation incentive gives businesses a tax credit of up to $1,000 per new job, or $5,000 if that job is created in one of the state’s 23 so-called Gateway Cities, which include Pittsfield, Springfield and Holyoke.

   Democratic State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke said the package contains a lot of innovative ideas and good collaborations with the private sector.

    " Right now the question is what is this bill getting us? Is it getting us 200 jobs at 100 companies or is it 500 jobs? So we need to follow up on the impact of this funding."

    Vega notes the bill also improves two existing housing programs with $5 million going to a housing stabilization fund and a doubling of existing tax credits to $10 million for developers of mixed-income market rate housing.

     " Lifting the cap of only fifty units is going to make it more attractive for developers to create market rate housing developments."

     Jeffrey Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said the House-approved package will have a positive affect.

    "It is putting money into programs that have a large degree of success rather than putting it into something you hope succeeds. So, while the money is not as much as we would have liked, it was carefully targeted into programs that work and will produce results."

     Ciuffreda said the brownfields redevelopment program that pays to clean up polluted sites for re-use and job training programs for advanced manufacturing have proved successful in western Massachusetts.

   The House approved an amendment to the economic development bill to establish a so-called sales tax holiday on the weekend of August 16 and 17.  The two days of tax-free shopping has become a regular fixture on the summer calendar, even though the state loses about $20 million in tax revenue as a result, according to Democratic Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington.

   " The public seems to really enjoy having that tax-free holiday weekend, so we are doing it again in 2014."

   The House bill will need to be reconciled with an economic development package that Senate leaders are still working on.

   " The clock is ticking on our legislative session. Formal sessions end July 31st. We have a number of major bills in conference ( committee) right now, and more on the way."

   The House turned down a proposal from Governor Deval Patrick to bar non-compete employment agreements – an issue that has divided several of the state’s largest businesses.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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