October 2020

Massachusetts Legislature Returns; Budget and Conference Committee Reports to Come

Having extended its formal legislative session past its July 31 deadline due to the impacts of COVID-19, the Massachusetts legislature continues to juggle two significant topics: the fiscal year 2021 budget and five conference committee reports.

Operating under an interim budget that essentially level-funded all services, the Commonwealth will need a fiscal year 2021 budget sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for the Massachusetts legislature, it is easier said than done. As widely reported, COVID-19 severely impacted the Commonwealth’s revenue picture. In comments made to the media in early October, Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo expressed concern that the Commonwealth’s revenue gap may approach a range of $2 billion to $6 billion, with the likelihood towards the higher end. While media reports indicate that the Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues echoes a similar theme, Senate President Karen Spilka has remained optimistic that Congress will put partisan bickering aside to provide relief to states. On October 7, the respective Ways and Means Chairs will be hosting another economic forecast hearing where public and private sector economists will paint the potential fiscal year 2021 picture.  On October 15, Governor Charlie Baker will present a new revenue model for the Massachusetts legislature to use as a projection for the remaining fiscal year 2021 budget.  Without federal assistance, the Massachusetts legislature faces the unenviable task of implementing budget cuts or revenue increasing measures.

At the same time, the Massachusetts legislature anxiously awaits a series of five conference committee reports being negotiated by groups of six legislators, three from the House and three from the Senate. Comprehensive proposals addressing police reform, economic development, green energy, health care, and transportation bonding are in the process of being reconciled. It is unclear whether the proposals will make an appearance before the general elections, but it appears that the House and Senate are intending to finish each of the bills. While the police reform legislation has garnered the most interest, the economic development, transportation, and health care reform bills may end up having a bigger impact within the Commonwealth. Per standard process, little to no information about the Conference Committee process is made public until the negotiations are completed and a final bill is presented to the House and Senate, respectively, for a simple “yes” or “no” vote.

UCANE will continue to advocate for the inclusion of language favorable to the construction industry in the fiscal year 2021 budget and, where applicable, in each Conference Committee report.

MassDEP Finalizes PFAS Regulations

September saw the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finalize regulations establishing enforceable standards for public drinking water systems impacted by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) while requiring regular testing for the contaminants. In conjunction with the announcement, the MassDEP also awarded more than $1.9 million in awards to 10 public water supply systems in Ayer, Westfield, Barnstable, Hudson, Millbury, Acton, Easton, Braintree, Holbrook and Randolph to support their efforts to address PFAS contamination and design treatment systems to eliminate it in their drinking water.

The new drinking water standard for PFAS establishes a limit of 20 parts per trillion (ppt) for the sum of six PFAS compounds, called “PFAS6.” The rule requires public water suppliers to test for PFAS6 and act when there is a detection above the limit. In using the sum of six PFAS compounds, these standards provide a higher degree of protection, particularly for sensitive subgroups including pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants. There are currently no federal PFAS standards for drinking water. The DEP regulations also require regular re-evaluation of data to determine whether standards will need to be updated in the future.

All community public water systems will be required to test for PFAS6. Large public water supplies, those serving a population of 50,000 or more, will be the first to test for PFAS6 under the new regulations, beginning their initial PFAS6 tests January 1, 2021. Public water supplies serving populations between 10,000 and 50,000 will begin initial tests April 1, 2021, and those serving a population of less than 10,000 will begin testing October 1, 2021.

As explained in the DEP press release on this issue, the regulations, 310 CMR 22.07G, detail the responsive actions that public water suppliers must take when the limit  – known as a Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL – is exceeded, as well as the provisions for public notice of such an exceedance so that communities can be educated and proactive in protecting their drinking water quality.

With increased PFAS testing underway, community grant awards will provide funding to water suppliers for the planning, studies, pump tests, and engineering and design work necessary to remove PFAS contamination from water systems. Each community listed above (Ayer, Westfield, Barnstable, Hyannis, Hudson, Millbury, Cummaquid, Acton, Easton, Devens, and Braintree, Holbrook, and Randolph) recently received $200,000 to address their PFAS6 remediation efforts. To date, 87 select private wells and 34 public water systems have received free PFAS6 testing, and 42 more public water systems are in the process of being tested.

For additional information about the finalized PFAS regulations, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/doc/pfas-mcl-revisions-to-310-cmr-2200-clean-version-9-16-2020/download.

Water Pollution Still Priority Issue for Cape Residents

According to a recent poll conducted by the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), more than 80 percent of Cape Cod residents believe combatting water pollution in the region is a high priority issue. The majority of respondents also believe that addressing the problem should be a shared responsibility, with federal and state government bearing the brunt of the costs. The poll was commissioned by CLF and conducted by EMC Research.

As reported through a press release issued by the CLF, some of the poll’s findings indicated:

  • Pollution in the Cape’s bays and ponds is a high priority issue for voters and seasonal residents.
  • An overwhelming (86 percent) of respondents rated water pollution as a high priority issue. These results were consistent across all regions on the Cape and among all demographic subgroups.
  • Awareness of the water pollution issue is high. A significant majority (71 percent) of respondents stated they have heard at least something about the water pollution issue on the Cape. When asked for details on what they have heard, many stated specifics about the issue including mentions of nitrogen, septic systems, and runoff.
  • Voters and seasonal residents understand the economic impacts of the water pollution issue and favor collaborative solutions to address it. Voters and seasonal residents see value in shared responsibility regarding the costs to address the Cape’s water pollution issues.
  • Over three in five respondents (68 percent) stated the federal government should take on a large portion of the cost, along with large tourist resorts (70 percent) and the state government (67 percent) also contributing their fair share.

Since 1966, Conservation Law Foundation has used legal challenges and advocacy to force solutions to a variety of New England’s environmental challenges. The group has been particularly active on Cape Cod to highlight the need to address nitrogen filled waters and meet the region’s up to  $6 billion water infrastructure funding gap.

For more information about the CLF’s efforts on Cape Cod, please visit: https://www.clf.org/making-an-impact/cape-cod-water-pollution/.

Baker-Polito Administration Issues Grants to Support Local Water Quality Management Efforts

On the last day of September, the Baker-Polito Administration announced $220,000 in federal grants to six projects across the Commonwealth to assess watershed pollution and plan for work to address water quality impairments. The projects, selected by the MassDEP, are based in Bourne, Dennis, Everett, Medfield, Monterey, and Springfield.

The grants are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through Section 604(b) of the federal Clean Water Act. Since 1998, MassDEP has funded 109 projects under the 604(b) Water Quality Management Planning program, totaling more than $5 million to address nonpoint source pollution problems. The term “nonpoint source pollution” refers to contaminants that are carried to a waterway due to precipitation and stormwater runoff from the land or infiltration into the soil. Common types of nonpoint source pollution include phosphorus and nitrogen from lawn and garden fertilizers, bacteria from pet waste and waterfowl, oil and grease from parking lots and roadways and sediment from construction activities and soil erosion.

As announced in the MassDEP press release, the projects receiving funding are:

  • Modeling in Red Brook Harbor to Support Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Development. (Town of Bourne) ($48,344). The Town will estimate sub-watershed nitrogen loads that will be incorporated into a water quality model of the Red Brook Harbor system to develop nitrogen load reduction goals.
  • Dennis Impaired Waters Best Management Practices (BMP) Assessment (Town of Dennis)($45,276). The Town will identify, prioritize and inspect town-owned property that contributes stormwater runoff to the Bass River and Swan Pond River systems for suitable locations for implementing structural stormwater BMPs. The project will result in three conceptual design plans, one of which will be advanced to a final design plan to be used for future construction.
  • Mystic Infiltration Trench Siting and Design Project. $40,450 (City of Everett) ($40,450). The City will advance design plans for the eventual installation of approximately 250 street infiltration trench Best Management Practices through eight municipalities within the Mystic River Watershed.
  • Town of Medfield Stormwater Retrofit Evaluation Project. (Town of Medfield) ($36,030). The Town will identify, prioritize and inspect town-owned property suitable for retrofitting structural stormwater Best Management Practices. The project will result in 25 percent design plans for the top three sites.
  • Development of Preliminary Designs and Implementation Plans to Reduce Phosphorus Loading in Lake Garfield. (Town of Monterey) ($8,500). The Town will prepare preliminary designs to install stormwater Best Management Practices to reduce phosphorus contributions to Lake Garfield.
  • Improving Water Quality Through Green Infrastructure Capacity Building. (Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) ($41,400). PVPC will prepare five to seven readily implementable stormwater Best Management Practice designs, with the focus on green infrastructure. The project also offers a 35-to-40-hour green infrastructure certificate-training program for 20 municipalities and 10 technical community college students to increase the green infrastructure knowledge base and interest within the region.

To find out more information about the grants and financial assistance related to water quality and watersheds, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/grants-financial-assistance-watersheds-water-quality.

News in Brief

  • Family and Medical Leave Rates to Remain the Same. The Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) announced at the beginning of October that it will continue collecting a 0.75 percent payroll tax to build up the agency’s self-titled fund. Accordingly, the maximum weekly benefit under the program will remain at $850. Under the new law, each October 1st requires the DFML to determine if the rate or maximum weekly benefit needs to be adjusted to ensure the program’s fund has a sufficient balance for the benefits it expects to pay out. Benefits will become available on Jan. 1, 2021 for workers seeking time off to bond with a new child, take care of a sick or injured service member, or to tend to a serious personal health condition. The date for benefits for workers to care for a family member with a serious health condition will be July 1, 2021.
  • Baker Administration Retirements: Mikula and Turco to Retire. The retirements of appointed agency personnel at different times during a gubernatorial administration is expected. Given the impact of COVID-19, the pace slowed as agency heads remained at their posts. With the temporary reprieve of the spread of COVID-19, two agency heads have given notice of their retirement. Commissioner Joan Mikula, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, retired at the end of September while Secretary Thomas Turco of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security announced his retirement as of the end of the year. Both individuals have had long careers as public servants within the Commonwealth.
  • Construction Remains a Top Ten Sector in Massachusetts. According to a recent report published by the Pioneer Institute, “service-based industries have significantly outperformed manufacturing and other traditional blue-collar economic sectors in Massachusetts since 2008.” The report is the second in a series that presents employment and business establishment trends in the Commonwealth on both the state and municipal levels. While construction has been among the lower half of the top ten, it remains grouped with other industries that do not widely fluctuate from year to year. Certain larger industries, such as health care and retail, continue to show more volatility depending on the economy. For more information on the Pioneer Institute’s report on the ten year trend from 2008 to 2018, please visit: https://pioneerinstitute.org/economic_opportunity/pioneer-report-underscores-wide-disparities-in-economic-performance-between-industry-sectors-in-massachusetts/ 
  • September 2020 Tax Collections Dip Slightly. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the Commonwealth took in $3.144 billion in tax revenue in September, which was $46 million or 1.4 percent less than September 2019. Year-to-date tax collections total roughly $7.27 billion through three full months of fiscal year 2021, which is $69 million or 1 percent more than was collected during in the same time period of fiscal 2020. Previously, state officials had estimated that tax revenues this year would grow 2.8 percent over fiscal 2020. September is a significant month for revenue collection because the third installments of both individual and corporate estimated payments are due. In normal years, September generally produces about 10% of annual revenue, making September the third or fourth largest revenue month of the year. This September is expected to be different. Although the month is still expected to be a significant month for revenues because of individual and corporate estimated payments, it will also reflect the impact of the filing and payment due date extensions for regular sales, meals, and room occupancy taxes. The due date for these tax types has been extended several times this year for certain businesses.