Conference Committee on FY22 Budget Hears Concerns About a Potential Reduction in Clean Water Trust’s Contract Assistance Line-Item
The end of June did not see the Massachusetts legislature unveil a new 12-month budget for fiscal year 2022. However, since the Massachusetts budget cycle is flexible enough to allow for such occurrences, the Conference Committee on the fiscal year 2022 budget has had more time to consider a number of opposing policy and appropriations matters. One particular matter up for negotiation is the appropriation for the Clean Water Trust’s (CWT’s) contract assistance line-item (1599-0093). The line-item, which provides the CWT with funding to address debt service, provides an indicator of sorts for the Commonwealth’s efforts to tackle its $18 billion to $21 billion water infrastructure gap.
After the final Senate FY22 budget funded the contract assistance line-item at slightly over the $39 million, a number of concerned organizations began advocating for it, including the House’s FY22 appropriation, $63.8 million, within the final Conference Committee report. The American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts (ACECMA), Massachusetts Water Works Association (MWWA), Massachusetts Water Environment Association (MWEA), Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship (MCWRS), the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), and UCANE all weighed in with the Conference Committee in a joint letter.
The letter, which was sent to both House and Senate leadership, as well as the conferees, urged the Massachusetts legislature to level fund the line-item. In particular, the six organizations wrote:
Level funding ($63,383,680) this vitally important line-item will help address the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure financing needs at a time when our municipalities and regional water utilities face unprecedented challenges including, but not limited to, nitrogen and phosphorus removal, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) remediation, addressing lead in drinking water, reducing combined sewer overflows, and stormwater management.
As you know, the Commonwealth and its municipalities have a $18 billion to $21 billion funding gap in meeting their drinking and wastewater infrastructure needs. This not only presents significant public health and environmental concerns, but directly impacts the Commonwealth’s ability to create meaningful economic development opportunities. In recent years, the Massachusetts legislature has given the Clean Water Trust greater authority to assist municipalities and regional water authorities with nitrogen, lead, and PFAS. In turn, the Clean Water Trust uses the contract assistance line-item to assist municipalities and regional water utilities in meeting their increasing water infrastructure needs.
Without level funding for the contract assistance line-item, the Clean Water Trust will not be able to provide the additional financial support necessary to incentivize our municipalities and regional water authorities to address critical maintenance needs, develop long term plans, and address required regulatory obligations. The contract assistance does not directly fund projects; it serves the critical role of meeting the difference between borrower repayments and amounts owed on debt service. Level-funding the contract assistance line-item would allow the Clean Water Trust to provide 0% loans and other incentives to encourage municipalities and regional water authorities to address their water infrastructure more affordably.
A well-maintained water infrastructure system is key to maintaining economic growth and creating new jobs. To this end, the future of the Commonwealth’s water infrastructure depends on increasing, not reducing, our investment in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. Returning the funding for the contract assistance line-item to an amount last seen in FY02 is a step backwards. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the Conference Committee appropriate level-funding ($63,383,680) for line-item 1599-0093 to ensure that we continue to move forward.
The Massachusetts Legislature passed an interim FY22 budget to cover the first month of the new budget year. In addition to reconciling the CWT contract assistance line-item, the Massachusetts legislature must negotiate differences in each branch’s approach to the film tax credit, additional fees for transportation network companies, the triaging and transport of severe stroke patients, and funding municipal priorities, among other issues.
Baker-Polito Administration Files Plan to Invest Federal COVID-19 Funding
After being rebuffed in his effort to create and unilaterally implement a capital plan for the Commonwealth’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation to codify his plan for the allocation of $2.9 billion in federal stimulus funds towards the end of June. In filing his legislation, the Governor asked the legislature to quickly pass his $2.9 billion plan in an effort to jump-start the Commonwealth’s economic recovery and support residents hardest-hit by COVID-19, such as lower-wage workers and communities of color. The move comes after the Massachusetts legislature rushed through legislation that mandated any ARPA funds received by the Commonwealth be placed in a separate account subject to appropriation by the legislature.
The Baker-Polito Administration’s $2.915 billion plan is part of a total of approximately $5.3 billion in direct aid to the Commonwealth from ARPA. According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, the ARPA funds are discretionary funds and are intended to support urgent COVID-19 response efforts, replace lost revenue, support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses, and address unequal public health and economic challenges in Massachusetts cities and towns throughout the pandemic. ARPA is also providing a total of $3.4 billion in direct aid for municipalities throughout Massachusetts, as well as substantial funding for key priorities including a total of $1.1 billion for transit.
Highlights of the Governor’s legislation include:
The Massachusetts House of Representatives is planning a series of public hearings throughout the Commonwealth to determine potential uses of the ARPA discretionary funding. For its part, the Massachusetts Senate also plans to receive testimony on potential uses of the ARPA funds in the coming months.
To review the Governor’s proposed legislation, please visit: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/192/HD4306.
MassDEP Commemorates National Drinking Water Week by Recognizing Public Water Systems
According to a press release from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), the agency recognized 119 public water systems across the Commonwealth with awards of commendation for their noteworthy public service delivered during 2020. The criteria the MassDEP uses include excellent water service to the public; no violations or non-compliance issues; and efforts that support public water supply services, such as source-water protection, water quality and conservation.
MassDEP works with drinking water utilities to make sure that the water delivered to consumers meets all federal and state standards and is clean and abundant, and each of the systems recognized have complete compliance with the regulations for calendar year 2020. For more than 30 years, during National Drinking Water Week, MassDEP recognizes and awards certain exemplary systems that have reached meritorious service for their work during the previous calendar year.
While numerous water systems were recognized for their work for water quality and compliance, three other categories included energy conservation, water conservation, as well as commendations for certain individual drinking water operators. Of note:
Dartmouth Water Division. The Town of Dartmouth performed comprehensive pumping system upgrades to municipal drinking water wells A, B, C and D. This project utilized the Massachusetts’ Gap Energy Grant and electric utility programs to install variable frequency drives and premium energy-efficient motors and to rebuild four pumps. These upgrades significantly increased their overall pumping efficiency, while saving the town more than $68,000 and 375,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.
Shrewsbury Water Department. Utilizing another Massachusetts Gap Energy Grant, the town installed a municipally owned 59 kilowatt (kW), ground-mounted solar photovoltaic system at the Home Farm Water Treatment Plant. As a result, the town is generating more than 75,000 kilowatt-hours of clean renewable electricity per year to power the water pumps and associated equipment to serve the water needs of the community. The town achieved a 2.5-year project payback.
Wareham Fire District. Finally, utilizing yet another Massachusetts Gap Energy Grant, the district installed a municipally owned 81 kilowatt (kW) solar system on the roof of the new Maple Springs Water Purification Plant. As a result, the district is saving more than $16,000 and generating over 95,000 kilowatt-hours of clean renewable electricity per year. This solar installation is providing approximately 10 percent of the total annual electricity needs for the water treatment plant.
The Chelmsford, Cohasset, Groton, and Hamilton Water Departments met the compliance standards of 65 residential gallons per-capita per-day of water use, along with the 10 percent unaccounted-for water usage system-wide (leaks/flushing) for the most-recent applicable year, and implemented the minimum, mandatory water use restrictions in 2019. All have websites showing conservation-related information and while not required, all used less water than the previous year.
Board of Certification of Drinking Water Operators:
The MassDEP recognized the Board of Certification of Drinking Water Facilities and its current six members: David Coppes, Blake Lukis, Andy Reid, William Salomaa, Ruth Alfasso, Michael Maynard, and Board Member Emeritus Michael Celona for their dedicated service to the Drinking Water Operator profession. During the past year, the Board issued 17 Temporary Emergency Certifications and approved 119 training classes, including 94 online sessions to address the changing environment during these challenging times.
Specifically, the MassDEP recognized Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) representative William ‘Bill’ Salomaa, who provided 32 years (1989 to present) of dedicated service and Mike Celona, representing the Department of Public Health from 2003-19. Both were involved with launching initiatives to improve the competency of operators, including the implementation of required training courses and sequential exams.
For more information on public drinking water systems in Massachusetts, please visit:https://www.mass.gov/topics/drinking-water.
City of Lowell Seeks Public Input on the Use of American Rescue Plan Funding
The City of Lowell is seeking input from members of the community on the use of federal funding that the City will receive under the ARPA. Lowell residents, business, and community organizations are encouraged to review information on eligible uses of the funding and submit proposals to the City by completing an online form available at: www.lowellma.gov/ARPAfunding.
Nationally, ARPA provided $350 billion in emergency funding to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 crisis. It is anticipated that the City of Lowell will receive $75.9 million in funding from ARPA, comprised of $54.4 million that the City is entitled to as a “metropolitan city” and an additional $21.5 million that will be received through the formula-based distribution of funding issued to Middlesex County given its non-functioning status.
ARPA funding must be encumbered by the City by December 31, 2024, but can be spent through the end of 2026. According to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, eligible uses of funding by a municipality include:
• Public health expenditures, including COVID-19 mitigation efforts; such as vaccination and testing programs, support for exacerbated behavioral health needs, and payroll for public health and safety personnel;
• Addressing negative economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 crisis; including providing assistance to families facing financial insecurity, supporting small businesses, accelerating the recovery of local tourism and rehiring public sector staff;
• Replacement of lost public sector revenue; and,
• Investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
Proposals submitted through the public input process will be considered by the City’s administration in the development of a multi-year spending plan for ARPA funds. The City will host a virtual public meeting later this summer to discuss suggestions and to provide more information on plans for distribution of the funding.
News in Brief
Sales Tax Holiday Dates Announced. Legislation was signed into law in 2018 that established an annual sales tax holiday for one weekend each year. This year, the sales tax holiday will occur on August 14 and August 15, 2021. On the sales tax holiday weekend, purchases by individuals of most retail items are not subject to the state sales tax. The sales tax holiday applies to individuals purchasing retail items for personal use only. Purchases by corporations or other businesses—or purchases by individuals for business use—remain taxable. The following do not qualify for the sales tax holiday exemption: meals; motor vehicles; tobacco products; marijuana or marijuana products; alcoholic beverages; and any single item whose price is more than $2,500. If you order and pay for an eligible item over the internet on the sales tax holiday, Eastern Daylight Time, that item will qualify for the sales tax holiday exemption. No sales tax is due on that purchase, even if delivery of the item occurs after the sales tax holiday weekend.
Change Coming to the Legislature. As the field for various statewide offices start to develop, the Massachusetts legislature will likely see some high visibility departures. Before the 2022 elections, one legislator will even head overseas as the United States Ambassador to Ireland. House Majority Claire Cronin, who represents the 11th Plymouth District covering parts of Brockton and Easton, was nominated in June by President Joe Biden to become the Ambassador to Ireland. Shortly thereafter, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz announced that she will run for Governor in 2022. The current Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy Committee and the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights and Inclusion, Senator Chang-Diaz is expected to be supported by a variety of progressive organizations. Finally, while Senator Marc Pacheco is considering a run for State Auditor, Senator Diane DiZoglio confirmed in June that she is running for the position in 2022.
Biele to Lead Boston Delegation. Representative David Biele will take over as the next chair of the Legislature's Boston Delegation for the 2021-2022 legislative session. The Boston delegation selected Biele, a South Boston Democrat first elected in 2018, to succeed Representative Chynah Tyler of Roxbury as its chair. Representative Tyler led the 23-member delegation for the 2019-2020 legislative session. Both Representative Biele and Representative Tyler are considered “up and comers” in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.