Western Massachusetts Legislators See Opportunity In GE Forfeiture | WAMC

Western Massachusetts Legislators See Opportunity In GE Forfeiture

Feb 20, 2019

Some state politicians have differing ideas for how Massachusetts should use the almost $90 million in state incentives General Electric is forfeiting.

GE is returning the money to Massachusetts after announcing it would be downsizing its plan for a new headquarters in Boston. With $87 million in taxpayer money suddenly back on the table, ideas are emerging from state legislators about how it could be best spent.

“GE remains in the middle of a $613 million cleanup case in the Berkshires, for the Housatonic," said State Senator Adam Hinds. "So what we’re saying is, this is a good time to return attention to that process.”

Hinds is a Democrat from the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden District. In 2000, GE signed an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts, Connecticut, the City of Pittsfield, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to clean up chemicals it dumped into the Housatonic River until the 1970s. The company is currently in mediation with the EPA to determine where the toxins cleaned up from the river should be disposed, with GE pushing for sites in the Berkshires and the EPA opting for an out-of-state site.

“Right now, that money, it belongs to Mass Development, and is that is a different entity in the state, but look, if we were to have a gesture of this type in the cleanup, there are a range of issues that of course we could start moving on when it comes to the cleanup," said Hinds. "The holdup, of course, is where the toxins would be located. There’s a lot of work along the way, this is a 13-year plan, and we could see some effort early on right to continue that focus on the cleanup.”

Hinds says the city of Pittsfield and the regional economy were “devastated a generation ago when General Electric packed up and left town.”

GE declined a request for comment from WAMC.

Hinds’ proposal isn’t the only one on the table.

“This morning I filed legislation joined by Senator Jo Comerford in Northampton and Senator Paul Feeney from Foxborough to redirect that money to closing the wait list we currently we have at our vocational schools in every corner of the commonwealth,” said State Senator Eric Lesser, a fellow Democrat from the First Hampden and Hampshire District.

“We know actually right now there are thousands of vacant positions in particular in advanced manufacturing, things like 3D printing, precision machining, and other vital tasks of 21st Century economy that create good, middle class jobs in every corner of the commonwealth," said Lesser. "So instead of giving massive tax write-offs to huge companies that are locating in places like Boston that are already booming, let’s spread that out and close the waitlist on our vocational schools which we know will create good jobs today.”

Lesser says schools could use the money to purchase training equipment, hire more faculty, expand and modernize classrooms, and more. He praised Hinds’ proposal as well, but noted that the incentives are taxpayer dollars.

“I think GE themselves should be the ones cleaning up the Housatonic," said the state senator, "which is why we should strengthen for example our environmental protections, we should beef up resources for the attorney general’s office so that they can go after GE to pay for those funds out of their own pocket.”