BOSTON (SHNS) – He won’t be in office to offer his feedback or sign it into law, but Gov. Charlie Baker thinks lawmakers will need to make a borrowing bill one of their top priorities for the first six months of the 2023-2024 session or risk allowing municipal infrastructure grants to dry up.
Baker said Thursday that he expects an economic development bond bill will surface early in the next term after top Democrats sliced out any borrowing authorization from the $3.76 billion spending measure he signed in November.
Earlier versions of the bill that cleared both chambers featured nearly $1.4 billion in bond authorizations to invest across the state, but lawmakers were unable to take the roll call votes needed for those sections because they failed to reach agreement until after formal sessions for the term ended Aug. 1.
Asked about outstanding funding needed for housing at a roundtable event in Haverhill, Baker said he is “assuming the Legislature is going to have to do an economic development bond bill because the bond part died.
“Let me just put it this way: if there isn’t a bond bill that gets through the process in June of ’23 instead of June of ’24, which is when we usually think about this, there’s not going to be a MassWorks program in the fall of ’23, which I’m sure is not something anybody in the Legislature is going to want to see happen,” he said, referring to the state’s largest capital grant program to municipalities.
The Baker administration handed out $100 million in MassWorks grants this year to help municipalities accelerate housing production and job growth.
Baker used the roundtable event to reflect on his administration’s work over the past eight years to address a statewide housing crisis. He called decades of federal housing policy that made homeownership hard to reach for people of color “an absolute travesty that has to be addressed.”
“That’s why we asked for $300 million in down payment assistance support. The Legislature put $60 [million] out there. It’s a great platform on which to build, I certainly hope people continue to build on that platform going forward,” Baker said. “But this issue around homeownership, which is the primary way most people build wealth in America, is a door that desperately needs to be open and stay open, especially in communities of color and for people of color, because this is not a door that was available to them, literally, for decades.”
Baker pointed Thursday to passage of a state law that lowers the local voting threshold required for some zoning changes from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority as one of his most significant accomplishments in that policy arena.
It’s still not clear how many projects have advanced as a result of the law Baker signed in January 2021, and the governor did not offer specifics during his remarks Thursday, though he said generally “it’s been demonstrated so far in a number of communities where this majority vote is starting to play out that it will have a profound impact on housing production going forward.”
“I used to read those stories all the time and just lose my mind — ‘Housing plan gets a seven to four vote out of the city council in Salem and fails.’ How the hell can you fail when you get a 7-4 affirmative vote for something? The answer is you needed a two-thirds [vote], which with an 11-member City Council was 8-3.”
Governor-elect Maura Healey has pledged to make housing affordability and availability a top priority, and a bond bill could be a vehicle for progress there.