Senate boosts Holyoke bond bill to $600M, removes labor agreement

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home construction bill set for debate in the Senate next week now includes $200 million more in borrowing aimed at overhauling the state’s veterans services, a significant departure from the House’s approach on a time-sensitive issue.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee’s version of the bill (S 2439), scheduled for a vote on Thursday, bulks up the bond authorization from $400 million to $600 million and strips out the project labor agreement language that generated dispute in the House bill.

It would still approve $400 million in borrowing for the construction of a new veterans’ home to replace the existing facility in Holyoke, a project that the Baker administration believes will qualify for up to 65 percent reimbursement from the federal government.

The Senate panel also folded in a new section not found in the unanimously approved House bill (H 3701) using another $200 million in bonds to fund studies and expansion of how Massachusetts providers care for its veterans.

That effort would focus on geographic equity and accessibility, aiming to boost supports for those who live farther away from the state-run Holyoke and Chelsea facilities, and it could feature construction of new satellite or regional veterans’ homes and “small house” design options, according to a summary of the committee’s bill.

The Senate Ways and Means bill does not include a project labor agreement governing the use of union labor on construction of the new Holyoke facility, which was featured in the version (H 3701) the House passed unanimously last week. Union leaders, trade groups, lawmakers and the Baker administration were split on whether such an agreement would help or hinder the use of minority- and women-owned firms on the project.

If the bill clears the Senate, leaders in the two branches will need to reconcile major differences in its scope and bottom line before sending it to Gov. Charlie Baker, who for months has been pressing lawmakers to act quickly.

Baker said when he filed the original $400 million bond authorization in February that the administration “must have this authorization available by April 1, 2021.”

In early April, his deputies said April 1 was not a hard deadline but stressed that the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance cannot start the months-long design process — which needs to be completed before submitting the grant application due Aug. 1 — until the Legislature finishes its work on the bill.

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