From broadband to building homes to a state bank, Senate sets out priorities for postpandemic Massachusetts

“Areas that received attention were removing barriers to work, confronting generations of wealth and income gaps, and trying to learn from previous recessions,” State Senator Adam said. Hinds, a Democrat from Pittsfield who chaired the committee tasked with “reimagining” the state after the pandemic was over. “State policy, when done well, can be transformative.”

Here are the most interesting takeaways from his committee’s report:

On some key priorities, Senate leaders and Governor Charlie Baker are not far from each other. The governor was frustrated by his inability to garner more support in the legislature to move quickly on his proposal in June to spend $ 2.9 billion of the $ 5 billion bailout funds. Baker would spend $ 1 billion on housing production and home buying assistance and $ 240 million on skills training. But it turns out these are priorities for Spilka, Hinds and their colleagues as well.

The Senate report’s workforce training number, $ 250 million, is almost exactly the same as Baker’s allowance. Senate leaders particularly want to focus on teaching English and software, and pair unemployed residents with career coaches. Like Baker, senators want to see large-scale investment in existing programs that would increase local housing stock, with an emphasis on affordable units. And like Baker, senators want to provide financial assistance to struggling city centers.

The concept of a state bank is gaining momentum. Tucked away in that Senate report is the suggestion that a public bank could help improve access to capital for small businesses, especially those owned by people of color in under-banked neighborhoods. The idea of ​​forming a state bank has been circulating around Beacon Hill for years, but hasn’t come a long way. This version suggests a public bank with the express mission of supporting “racial and ethnic equity”.

It may cost anywhere from $ 500 billion to $ 1 billion upfront, but that money would serve as an investment that could allow the bank’s operating revenues to amortize. An alternative to a brand new institution would be to fortify Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp., a quasi-public agency Baker used to distribute more than $ 700 million in aid to small businesses during the pandemic.

Certain sectors of the economy, such as the live events industry, may need additional subsidies. The report primarily examines long-term investments for a post-pandemic economy. But there are examples where senators see the need to help fill short-term gaps to enable companies to survive the current pandemic. In particular, the Senate panel recommends using $ 40 million of bailout funds to help what it calls “the rally economy” – businesses that support large in-person conferences, concerts and shows. cultural.

Improving broadband access goes beyond simply laying cables in the ground. As a senator from the Berkshires, Hinds is familiar with the struggles to “wire” every rural town in western Massachusetts. Hinds said state officials have already made significant progress in this regard and hope to have some form of high-speed internet service in all cities by the end of 2022. Hinds was surprised to learn that the greatest concern is for low-income residents. , especially those in urban areas, who simply cannot afford the monthly bills. To solve this problem, the Senate panel wants to expand public broadband subsidies for low-income residents and create a “digital equity fund” that would provide grants to cities, nonprofits and advocacy groups. who are trying to improve broadband access.

The President of the Senate is advancing her concept of intergenerational care centers. In April, Spilka spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce about an idea she called “intergenerational care centers,” one-stop-shops for families seeking help with caring for children, children and adults. elderly or disabled people. This report provides more clarity on this vision. Rather than supplanting publicly funded family resource centers, senators would convert them into intergenerational care clearinghouses, to help caregivers find support and add more services. (The Senate panel suggests $ 50 million in bailout funds to spur these changes.) Additionally, state officials could encourage the construction of senior living and preschool centers alongside the elementary or secondary schools, to share facilities and improve links between generations.

It’s time to electrify the state’s transportation network. Advocates have long called for the diesel-powered trains in the MBTA commuter train fleet to be replaced with electrified vehicles, in order to reduce pollution and improve flexibility. But Hinds said the state should also consider ways to encourage the conversion of school buses and public transportation, as well as vans and parcel delivery trucks. The report suggests implementing a congestion pricing system that charges less for electric vehicles. This switch to electricity can be incredibly expensive. But if there ever was a time to try, says Hinds, this is it.

Jon Chesto can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @jonchesto.

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