Lawmakers task pet projects with relief measures | New


BOSTON – The influx of billions of dollars in federal relief funds and excess money prompts lawmakers to take money home for local pet projects, programs and initiatives – some of which only have little or nothing to do with recovery from a pandemic.

The State Senate on Wednesday introduced its proposal to spend more than $ 3.66 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds and excess revenue to invest in housing, labor, schools and the health system to help workers, businesses and communities to support the hardest. hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But lawmakers should load the relief bill with dozens of amendments that will likely increase its final price. The proposal leaves about $ 2.4 billion in unallocated surplus and federal relief funds, giving senators a long lead to incorporate more spending into the measure before it is taken next week.

Ways and Means Senate Speaker Michael Rodrigues D-Westport told reporters on Wednesday he expects the spending bill to increase to $ 3.95 billion in the process amendment.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives last week approved a relief bill containing tens of millions of dollars in earmarks for local programs and projects.

House leaders met mainly in private meetings to decide which of the more than 1,100 proposed amendments would appear in the final bill.

They accept several “mega-amendments” – each comprising hundreds of amendments – which have shot the net result of the spending bill to $ 3.82 billion.

Beacon Hill Watchdogs say Congress never intended to spend relief money on local pet projects and say lawmakers shouldn’t go on a spending spree.

“This money was supposed to be spent to alleviate the pandemic, but it is clear that many lawmakers saw that this was just another budget spending bill,” said Paul Craney, spokesperson from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a pro-business conservative group. “They shouldn’t be using this money for favorite projects during an election year.”

Hundreds of non-pandemic allotments were also added to the House bill, including $ 200,000 to improve bicycle safety in Andover, $ 100,000 for a lawn in North Reading, $ 150,000 to repair elevators at Melrose High School and $ 1.3 million for an Italian immigrant memorial in Boston’s North End.

David Tuerck, economist and president of the Boston-based Beacon Hill Institute, said lawmakers should be careful how they allocate exceptional federal aid and should not spend it on pet projects.

“The legislature is treating this bonanza of money as if it was Christmas morning,” he said. “They shouldn’t be spending this money on frivolous projects.”

Ways and Means House Speaker Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, said the House-approved bill was based on public hearings and input from hundreds of people and organizations. In his remarks, he called it a “truly fair spending program” that focuses on communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

A centerpiece of the back-up plan calls for spending $ 500 million on bonus checks for frontline workers who remained on the job during the pandemic.

True, the House bill provided $ 500 million to help replenish the state unemployment trust fund and $ 200 million in tax breaks for small business owners who paid income taxes. individuals on state or federal pandemic relief money.

It also included money for safety net hospitals, public health systems and mental health services that have struggled to meet demand during the pandemic.

There were also unrelated expense items, such as $ 12 million to help with the resettlement of Afghan refugees and $ 5 million to create a website tracking the number of contracts awarded to minority-owned businesses.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation noted that the House bill primarily used excess money to cover the cost of changes to the measure, not federal funds.

The Senate bill makes no distinction on the sources of funding, leaving the decision to the Office of State Administration and Finance.

Massachusetts received about $ 5.3 billion in direct funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden.

Governor Charlie Baker has argued with legislative leaders over control of the money. He initially proposed spending $ 2.8 billion, letting lawmakers distribute the rest. But lawmakers rejected his plan and swept most of the money into a fund controlled by the legislature.

Baker responded with legislation calling for $ 2.9 billion in spending on housing, the environment, transportation and other priorities.

Legislative leaders held public hearings on the governor’s proposal, but ultimately decided on their own plans.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the websites of the North of Boston Media Group. Email him at [email protected]

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