By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- With unemployment in Massachusetts down to 5.5 percent and a new jobs report due out Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick signed an economic development bill Wednesday that directs funds to brownfields cleanup efforts, data industry workforce development and "transformative" grants for local developments.
As expected, Patrick agreed to the bulk of a bill rushed through the House and Senate before formal sessions ended July 31. But the governor sheared off provisions that created tax credits for Broadway-bound productions and a special designation for Avon and Stoughton.
"We're capitalizing on our top emerging and existing industries, which play an important role in securing our status as a national leader," Senate President Therese Murray said at a signing ceremony. "Two of these industries are Big Data and advanced manufacturing, which both hold significant potential for growth as these industries are partnering with others to share their research and data with the world."
The $77.8 million law was greeted by local officials from Revere, Chelsea, Boston, New Bedford and Lawrence, among others who cheered the signing.
The House and Senate have stopped holding formal sessions for the year, meaning legislative leaders would have to take the rare step of calling a lame duck formal session to override Patrick's vetoes.
Patrick also re-filed legislation that lawmakers stripped from the final version of the bill, which would have limited the ability of companies to use non-compete agreements with employees and removed the state cap on local liquor licenses, giving authority to municipal licensing commissions to determine how many would be available.
"There's always more to do," Patrick said at the bill signing.
Murray told the News Service Patrick's bills will "be probably taken up next session rather than this session."
All pending bills die at the end of this year. Murray and Patrick are not seeking re-election this year.
In a statement, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Guzzi said he was "pleased" with the new law and glad it did not include the ban on non-compete agreements Patrick had initially proposed.
Patrick also sent back to the Legislature for study a provision that would provide a tax incentive for angel investments, which provide early-level funding for startups.
"As you know, this administration has a strong record of supporting efforts to encourage the Commonwealth's innovation economy," Patrick wrote in a message to lawmakers. "But I am not convinced that this new credit is necessary for these efforts."
Though study amendments often spell the end for legislative proposals, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki said the angel investment tax credit could see new life.
"It's not going to pass this session, but I think obviously there was appetite in the Legislature, and I think in this case a study could lead to action in the next legislative session," Bialecki told the News Service. He said the tax break was seen as less necessary because the state tries to fill in gaps in the economy and, "Angel investing is very strong in Massachusetts."
The bill provides funding for computer science education in state classrooms, and sets the upcoming weekend of Aug. 16 and 17 as a sales tax holiday. Bialecki said he believes retailers and consumers will have enough time to prepare for the shopping days, and said his own friends and neighbors have been getting for it, and big retailers have been running ads for weeks "in anticipation for it."
The $10 million in brownfields funding and $16 million in a "transformative project fund" administered by MassDevelopment will be a boon for cities facing hurdles, said Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera.
"For us, it's maybe we need a parking structure downtown in a certain area, which is one of the things we're talking about," Rivera said of the transformative grants. He told the News Service, "You could probably spend $100 million a year on brownfields across the state, so we're just happy that we got some of it in there."
Aaron Agulnek, of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said the new law provides $150,000 in grant funding for job training provided to people with developmental disabilities, similar to a current program run by Jewish Vocational Services.
Noting that Patrick signed into law an increase in a research and development tax credit, Bialecki said the proposed tax credit for Broadway-bound theater productions didn't comport with the findings of the Tax Expenditure Commission, which recommended against "narrowly" crafted tax credits. He said the R&D tax credit was sufficiently broad.
Inspector General Glenn Cunha wrote to Patrick on Monday, airing concerns that the live theater tax credit would permit qualified expenditures to include goods purchased out of state or out-of-state contractors.
Rep. Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat, sponsored the legislation with Rep. Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat and owner of the Dedham Community Theater, and Collins said they would continue to work on it.
"The legislation was well thought out and had statewide reach," Collins told the News Service. "It had a cultural aspect and a job growth aspect I believe the state was in need of."
The bill that reached Patrick's desk included language that would grant Avon and Stoughton a designation under the smart growth zoning district law, also known as 40R, providing state support for local development. Patrick used his veto pen on those measures.
"We love Avon. We love Stoughton. If they have a district that meets the criteria, they're welcome to apply, but the idea was to identify districts within a community that are good for housing, not just the whole town," Bialecki said.
Bialecki said Patrick's filing of legislation to remove state limits on liquor licenses would allow economic prosperity to spread beyond Boston, which received new licenses under the legislation.
"He was very happy with what the Legislature did for Boston," Bialecki told the News Service. He said, "He would like to see more restaurants to promote more economic development."