March 2020

Massachusetts House of Representatives Releases Transportation Finance Plan

The Massachusetts House of Representatives unveiled its plan for funding the Commonwealth’s transportation financing needs for roads, bridges, rail, transit, and other modes of traversing the state.  While the House had spoken about its interest in potentially looking at a large fuel tax increase, the plan released by the House was generally regarded as a balanced measure that pulled from a variety of sources. 

In particular, the funding plan will increase gasoline taxes from 26.54 cents a gallon to 31.54 cents a gallon. The state tax on diesel fuel will increase from 26.54 cents a gallon to 35.54 cents a gallon. The gasoline and diesel fuel hikes are estimated to bring in an additional $150 million to $175 million (gas) and $32 million (diesel).

In addition, the legislation creates a new, 9-tiered system for the corporate minimum tax. According to House leaders, an estimated 60% to 70% of corporations in the state pay the minimum corporate tax rate of $456 dollars a year, a rate that has not been raised since 1989.  Under the proposal, small businesses in Massachusetts with less than $1 million in sales would continue to pay the minimum. The corporate tax would be capped at $150,000 for companies with annual Massachusetts sales of $1 billion or more.

As drafted, the House proposal would hike fees on most transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft. Fees on shared rides would stay at the current 20 cents per ride. The fee on non-shared rides would go up $1, to $1.20 a ride. And the fee on non-shared luxury rides would go up $1 in addition to the previous increase. Interestingly, the legislation states that certain of those fees cannot be directly charged to users of the TNC service.

The proposed plan will also remove the exemption rental car companies currently have on sales taxes for their fleet. Currently, the companies do not have to pay sales tax on a vehicle purchased and registered in Massachusetts. If passed, those vehicles purchased in Massachusetts would be subject to the state’s 6.25% sales tax.

With respect to the interaction between the Governor’s proposed commitment to the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which will increase the cost of fuel, and the House proposed increase to the fuel tax, the House’s proposed plan would require the Massachusetts Department of Revenue to change its calculations on the gasoline tax to reflect the increased price caused by the TCI.  While the provision would not apply to diesel fuel, the inclusion of the language reflected House leaders’ concern for lower-to-middle wage workers who must commute to work by motor vehicle.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives will likely pass their transportation finance plan within the first week of March.  The Massachusetts Senate, which has been studying a myriad of transportation funding and policy measures for their own plan, will likely unveil the same in the weeks following the House’s passage of its proposal.  Given the Governor’s statements in opposition to increased taxes, both branches, House and Senate, will be focused on crafting veto-proof majorities.

To view the House transportation funding proposal, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H4508/BillHistory.

Governor Files Legislation to Support Minority and Women-Owned Businesses

According to a press release issued by their offices at the end of February, the Baker-Polito Administration filed legislation, House Bill 4511, An Act to Expand Opportunities for Minority and Women Business Enterprises in Public Construction Projects, and announced a series of administrative changes to promote greater participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in public construction, including small businesses. According to the Administration, these changes will help optimize and improve the Affirmative Marketing Program (AMP), which sets goals for participation by minority-owned businesses (MBEs) and women-owned businesses (WBEs) in design and construction for the state and municipalities with vertical construction.

The goal of the newly filed legislation is to afford new opportunities to MBEs and WBEs in two ways. First, the legislation proposes an increase in the dollar thresholds over which public entities are required to subcontract and bid out specific components of a project. Currently, bids for most subcontracted work over $25,000 are subject to a filed sub-bid requirement, a process that requires interested subcontractors to comply with certification, bonding and other requirements, and to submit bids to the awarding authority. This proposal would increase the thresholds governing when filed sub-bids would be required, to instead only require them when the subcontracted work costs more than $50,000 and the overall project cost exceeds $1 million.

The second way in which the legislation proposes to expand opportunities for MBEs and WBEs on Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) and other public projects is to change certain sub-bid requirements. As reported by the Administration, over 50 percent of public building work is subcontracted out by means of filed sub-bids. As noted by the Administration, sub-bids are not subject to MBE and WBE participation goals. The legislation will allow DCAMM to set MBE and WBE participation goals for this subcontracted work on projects over $5 million.

The administrative changes involve DCAMM splitting the AMP goals for the percentage of spending distributed to MBEs and WBEs so that there are distinct participation requirements for both groups and ensures participation by both MBE and WBE firms. Additionally, the combined annual participation goals will be increased from 10.4 percent to 13 percent in the construction phase, and from 17.9 % to 21.6 % in the design phase. These changes will also allow for the establishment of project-specific AMP goals. This enables participation goals for an individual project to be specifically tailored to it prior to procurement, and ensures that goals accurately reflect the availability of contractors and other factors.

UCANE, which has advocated for reasonable MBE and WBE programs supported by the development of an eligible workforce, recently submitted written testimony relative to the creation of a MBE/WBE commission to better address this key workforce area.  In its support for House Bill 2678, An Act Creating a Special Commission to Study the Participation of Minority Business Enterprises and Women Business Enterprises in Public Construction, UCANE wrote:

At present rates, the Commonwealth’s vocational schools are projected to meet only about 23% of the expected demand in construction. The projected workforce shortage is an excellent impetus for forming the special commission proposed in HB2678. It is also important to recognize that in creating hiring goals and objectives for the employment of minorities and women, we must look at the available marketplace for employees.  If we do not reasonably understand the potential for our future workforce composition or the tools necessary to foster a vibrant workforce, any goals or objectives we set will be arbitrary and, unfortunately, unlikely to be met. To address this concern, HB2678 would establish a special commission to investigate, study, and make legislative recommendations on the adequacy and efficiency of laws regarding the participation of minority business enterprises and women business enterprises in public construction projects.  This is a key first step to better understand the industry’s challenges in diversifying the workforce.

The Baker-Polito legislation has been referred to the Joint Committee on State Administration.  Information about a public hearing for the measure will be announced soon.  In the meantime, to view a copy of the legislation, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H4511.

Baker-Polito Administration Awards Grants to Help Local Watershed Groups Monitor Water Quality

As reported by the Baker-Polito Administration, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) awarded $154,145 in funding to 14 watershed monitoring groups across the Commonwealth to help them test rivers, lakes and ponds, and coastal resources for bacteria. The Water Quality Monitoring Grant Program is being offered by the MassDEP for a second year to support watershed groups with baseline monitoring program activities and to help those groups build sampling capabilities. This grant program is part of a $450,000 increase in state funding that will be dedicated to increasing capacity in water quality monitoring and assessment.

Each grant will fund up to $15,000 in monitoring project support, and the resulting enhanced water quality data will help MassDEP implement program requirements for the Federal Clean Water Act. This funding will help eligible non-profits organizations, including watershed groups, academic institutions, and others with surface water quality monitoring capacity.

A sampling of the grant recipients and awards includes:

  • Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) ($10,503). BEAT will use the grant to develop a volunteer-based water quality monitoring program in Berkshire County. Funds will be used to purchase bacteria sampling and analysis supplies to conduct biweekly monitoring at 22 sites in the Housatonic and Hoosic watersheds.

  • Blackstone River Coalition (BRC) ($15,000). BRC will use the grant to update and integrate historic data into a water quality database and to purchase bacteria sampling and analysis supplies to conduct biweekly monitoring at 10 sites in the Blackstone River watershed.

  • Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) ($14,788). CCS will use the grant to purchase bacteria sampling and analysis supplies and equipment to conduct biweekly bacteria monitoring at eight sites in the Cape Cod watershed.

  • Cohasset Center for Student Coastal Research (CCSCR) ($14,983). CCSCR will use this grant to purchase bacteria sampling and analysis supplies and equipment to expand the Center’s capacity to conduct weekly monitoring at 35 sites in the Boston Harbor and South Coastal watersheds.

  • Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) ($15,000). CRC will use this grant to purchase bacteria sampling and analysis supplies and equipment to support the work of Deerfield River Watershed Association, Chicopee4Rivers Watershed Council, and the Fort River Watershed Association in conducting weekly and biweekly monitoring at 49 sites in the Chicopee, Connecticut, and Deerfield watersheds.

  • Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) ($9,203). MyRWA will use this grant to support an established bacteria monitoring program that includes monthly monitoring at 15 sites in the Mystic River watershed.

According to the MassDEP release on this matter, watersheds across the Commonwealth must be assessed every two years. However, many water bodies are not assessed for one or more uses – such as primary or secondary recreation or aquatic life – in any given assessment cycle, and many small or unnamed streams and ponds have never been monitored or assessed. Also, many water bodies that have been assessed in the past need updated information to determine their current condition. It is anticipated that this grant program will increase the availability of bacteria data that is used to determine the condition of surface waters within the state.

For more information on MassDEP’s watershed monitoring and assessment programs, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/grants-financial-assistance-watersheds-water-quality#water-quality-monitoring-grant-program-.

Supplemental Budget Includes More Funding for Testing; Legislators Write to Attorney General Healey Seeking Action Against Manufacturers

The Massachusetts legislature recently passed another supplemental budget that contained additional funding of $4.2 million for the testing of water supplies for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the end of February.  The additional funding, which fulfills the Governor’s initial funding request for $8.4 million for testing resources, comes on the heels of a heightened awareness about the presence of PFAS.  Efforts continue towards identifying the scope and extent of PFAS in the Commonwealth’s water supplies.  It is anticipated that municipal and regional water systems will need significant financial assistance from the state to address this issue.

To that end, Senator Jo Comerford and Senator Mike Moore recently sent a letter to Attorney General Maura Healey asking her to use her office to hold manufacturers who use PFAS responsible for its leaching into water supplies.  In a press release issued from Senator’s Moore’s office, it was noted that “[m]any companies have been known to use PFAS chemicals, however the three most widely known to use them in their manufacturing are 3M, DuPont, and Chemour. According to the Environmental Working Group, these companies were aware of the serious health risks associated with exposure to PFAS. Because of the widespread use of PFAS across an abundance of industries, many people have been exposed and unknowingly consumed these chemicals.”

Senators Comerford and Moore also requested that the Attorney General take action because “the cost of addressing this issue will increase, putting an unnecessary financial burden on the Commonwealth and its municipalities … [i]t is therefore more prudent to have the companies who profited off this contamination pay for the damages that they have created.”.

The MassDEP and Massachusetts Clean Water Trust, which have passed more stringent regulations and expanded the SRF loan program, respectively, have been very active on this issue.  For more information about their work, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/news/clean-water-trust-approves-0-interest-rate-loan-pilot-program-for-pfas-treatment.

Baker-Polito Administration Awards Grants to Help Municipalities Meet Stormwater Permitting Requirements

The Baker-Polito Administration recently announced that it has awarded $300,000 in grants to five stormwater coalitions across the Commonwealth to help local cities and towns meet existing and upcoming stormwater management requirements. The grants, funded by the MassDEP, were awarded to the Statewide Stormwater Coalition, Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition, Southeast Regional Stormwater Coalition, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy for Buzzards Bay Stormwater Collaborative, and the Northern Middlesex Stormwater Collaborative.

The funding will enable groups of Massachusetts municipalities to expand their efforts to meet requirements under the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit, issued jointly by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and MassDEP, and reduce stormwater pollution through coordinated partnerships that emphasize resource sharing. More than 240 Massachusetts municipalities are subject to the 2016 MS4 permit, which took effect on July 1, 2018.

Permit requirements that the municipalities subject to the MS4 permit must meet include, the development and implementation of a Public Education program, adopting more stringent local development rules, and locating and removing pollutants that are illegally entering municipal stormwater systems.

The groups receiving awards are:

  • Statewide Stormwater Coalition ($107,795). This project will further expand the “Think Blue Massachusetts” statewide stormwater public awareness and education campaign that helps each MS4 community meet MS4 education and outreach requirements. The proposed project includes expanded advertising to build awareness and brand recognition, new messaging for certain impaired waters, an interactive social media contest, planning for a Think Blue Massachusetts symposium, and training.

  • Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC)($28,000). This project offers workshops to meet the Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination training requirement for CMRSWC members and additional MS4 communities.

  • Southeast Regional Stormwater Coalition (SRWC) ($55,000). This project will offer workshops to up to 20 towns in which both SRSC communities and others would develop their required Operation and Maintenance Plans for Parks and Open Space, Buildings and Facilities, Vehicles and Equipment, and Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans.

  • Northern Middlesex Stormwater Collaborative ($62,504). This project will develop a bylaw/ordinance and regulations and permit-tracking materials to address construction site runoff control and post construction stormwater management at development and redevelopment sites, as required by the 2016 MS4 Permit by June 30, 2020.

  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy for Buzzards Bay Stormwater Collaborative ($46,700). This project will outfit and customize an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination utility trailer for use by the eight Buzzards Bay municipalities; and includes training for municipal staff, Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) staff, and MMA Co-op students.

To learn more about the Stormwater MS4 Municipal Assistance Grant Program, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/grants-financial-assistance-watersheds-water-quality#stormwater-ms4-municipal-assistance-grant-program-.