By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- A House-Senate committee on Monday approved a $1.7 billion borrowing bill, dramatically raising the bottom line on legislation sought by Gov. Deval Patrick and padding the legislation with spending authorizations for trees, cranberry bog acquisitions and money to purchase coastal property.
The Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Marc Pacheco and Rep. Anne Gobi, added nearly $800 million to the $911 million plan submitted by Gov. Patrick.
"The authorization that came in we thought was far short of what we needed for the environmental needs of the Commonwealth," Pacheco told the News Service.
At Patrick's request, the House and Senate this session have been advancing through the branches a series of big-ticket long-term borrowing bills that administration officials say are needed to keep capital spending and public works projects on track. While credit rating agencies have raised the state's debt burden as a concern, administration officials say the proposed borrowing is within affordability limits.
The committee also favorably reported a bill (S 2028) filed by Pacheco that requires the administration to develop a climate change adaptation plan, listing the state's vulnerabilities and establishing a voluntary program where property owners could sell their repeatedly damaged coastal property to the state.
The bill would fund the proposed new coastal buyback program with about $50 million, said Pacheco, who said that program was added by the committee.
Bond bills do not allocate money the way a budget does, but instead authorize the administration to borrow, generally for long-lasting capital projects. The bond bill (H 3332) that cleared committee Monday will face further review by other committees and likely the full House and Senate.
Additionally the bill would devote $65 million to coastal infrastructure, $55 million for a climate center, and $30 million to help cities and towns create parks.
There are few specific projects earmarked in the bill. Among the earmarks are $800,000 for the Oyster Pond Environmental Trust purchase of 22 acres in Falmouth, $10 million for the Bristol County Agricultural High School in Dighton to create an Eastern Regional Center for Urban Sustainability, and $4.4 million for the Whitney Pond Dam, in Winchendon.
The bond bill would increase from $2 million to $5 million the total tax credits available annually for environmental conservation land donations, and increase the maximum amount of tax credits that can be claimed for each donation from $50,000 to $75,000.
The bill would fund various governmental and non-profit tree planting efforts with $50 million, which Pacheco said has the twin benefits of soaking up atmospheric carbon and providing shade on hot days.
The acquisition and restoration of cranberry bogs - which can damage water quality with their runoff - would receive funding under the bill. There is additional money for land acquisition and recreation paths.
The bill would include $19 million for a Department of Environmental Protection solid waste master plan, a 10-year roadmap the DEP developed in 2010. On Oct. 1, the DEP plans to implement mandatory composting for large-scale facilities, as part of an attempt to reduce food waste.