After months of committee hearings and widespread anticipation, the House has finally produced a bill outlining how they want to spend the federal ARPA funds and the massive surplus of tax dollars collected in 2020.
All told, the combined spending bill was initially worth $3.65B and had over 1,000 amendments filed. On Friday night, they passed a bill worth $3.82B. In their typical fashion, the House dealt secretly behind closed doors leading to the 1,126 amendments filed being boiled down to just four consolidated amendments, without any hint given to the public of what was included until after they passed. There is still roughly $2.4B left in ARPA money and $350M in excess tax collection funds that they are saving for later.
For a bill that uses federal funds intended mainly for one-time pandemic related expenses, some of the items added were completely unrelated to the pandemic and much more should have gone to issues that fit the original purpose. For example, over $400M was spent on “climate resiliency,” “offshore wind development,” and “PFAS mitigation.”
House lawmakers were quick to add local pet pork projects within the four mega amendments. These pork projects are being funded with pandemic relief money or excessive state tax collections. A few are listed below:
- $500,000 for a new turf field carpet for a school in North Reading by state Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading).
- $500,000 for equipment to start up a robotics program for a school in Attleboro by state Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-Attleboro).
- $250,000 for irrigation for a school soccer field in Brockton by state Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton).
- $400,000 for a public boat ramp in Hull by state Rep. Joan Meschino (D-Hull).
- $200,000 for a SINGLE electric school bus in Haverhill by state Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill).
It’s clear, for some House lawmakers, their priority for spending pandemic relief money was for local pet pork projects.
A noteworthy OMISSION was any significant funding to help the battered small businesses who endured monumental hardships over the last year and a half. MassFiscal, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts have all been talking about the massive debt facing the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) fund that amounts to the tune of $7B. This deficit is a direct result of state mandating businesses close their doors, restricting them, and forcing people stay home during the pandemic. As a result, many workers lost their jobs and the businesses that did survive are now on the hook to pay the massive debt in the unemployment fund. This will act as a $7 billion dollar tax hike. Every business, including businesses not yet established and even those that did not let go any employees, are obligated to pay back this debt.
Over 30 other states have dedicated ARPA funds to fill their own UI deficits. Speaker Ron Mariano and the Massachusetts House only included $500M of the $5B in federal dollars to help the state’s small businesses with this debt. Governor Charlie Baker made his own proposal to include up to $1B. To say that’s an embarrassment is an understatement. So many businesses put themselves deeply in debt in order to stay afloat and keep their employees on the payroll. The state is failing them now.
The next step will be the Senate releasing their own bill as soon as this week. The legislature has until November 17th, when their formal sessions end for the year. They will have to draft a compromise of their two bills and get it to Governor Baker’s desk before then. That will leave the power in the hands of the governor to veto the bill or sign it.
We’ll update you as we learn more…