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2020 Econ Dev Bond Bill Has $31M in Play for Cultural Sector Recovery

Bethann Steiner, Public Affairs Director

Last week the Massachusetts House of Representatives and State Senate debated the 2020 jobs/economic development bond bill, “An Act enabling partnerships for growth.” The two Chambers engrossed (or gave preliminary approval to) their own version of the legislation. Both invested heavily in the cultural sector:

  • The House bill, H. 4887 authorizes $11M in new capital spending for Mass Cultural Council to support the promotion of local artists and cultural nonprofit organizations, ensures Massachusetts students will have access to remote cultural experiences in the coming academic year, and establishes a new statewide commission to make recommendations on COVID recovery for the cultural and creative sector.
  • The Senate bill, S. 2842 authorizes $20 million in new capital spending for Mass Cultural Council to support a nonprofit infrastructure and equipment grant program to implement COVID recovery strategies.

Because each Chamber endorsed its own version of the bill, a six-member Conference Committee was appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President to reconcile the two bills and develop a final conference report. Conferees on the House side are House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz, Economic Development & Emerging Technologies Chair Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Rep. Donald Wong. On the Senate side the negotiations will be led by Economic Development & Emerging Technologies Chair Eric Lesser, Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Sen. Patrick O’Connor.

Also last week the House and Senate changed the Joint Rules, which govern how they conduct official business. Since 1995 the Joint Rules called for an end of formal legislative sessions at midnight on July 31 of the second session year. That deadline would have occurred last Friday. However, because of the time lost due to COVID-19 and the many important unsettled matters still before the Legislature, the House and Senate agreed to waive this deadline. This means that the economic development conferees have until the end of calendar year 2020 to complete their work.

What is a bond bill?

A bond bill authorizes the state to borrow funds which are then used to invest in capital projects and state programs. The borrowed funds authorized by a bond bill are then invested by the Governor via the annual capital budget, which is also referred to as the capital spending plan.

The 2020 economic development bond bill authorizes $450 million in borrowing to stimulate economic development and create jobs across Massachusetts.

It is generally understood that when funds are appropriated by a budget bill, either to a line item account or to a specific project or program via legislative earmark, that the monies will be received and spent during the fiscal year. However, capital spending that is authorized in a bond bill may never actually be funded through the capital plan.

By including an item in a bond bill, the Legislature is signaling its support to the Administration for such investment to occur and noting that certain named projects are a priority. However, unlike a budget bill, which is crafted by the Legislature and approved when signed into law by the Governor, the annual capital plan is solely managed and developed by the Administration. Beneficiaries of capital spending authorizations in a bond bill must continue their advocacy with the Administration to ensure their initiative, program, or project is funded in the annual capital spending plan.

Calling for Robust Public Investment

Since March Mass Cultural Council has surveyed the cultural sector three times to determine and track the devastating economic impact COVID has had on cultural nonprofits and individual artists. We have dutifully and continually shared this information with our partners on Beacon Hill, and the data has been the foundation of our advocacy campaign seeking public investment in the cultural sector for COVID recovery with MASSCreative.

We believe our message has been received and understood on Beacon Hill and are thrilled that together, the House and Senate economic development bond bills propose $31 million in new capital spending to support the cultural sector and its COVID recovery needs. Further, we are pleased these proposals are pending in a jobs/economic development bill. Mass Cultural Council has often cited the robust economic impact of the cultural sector in Massachusetts. Pre-COVID the cultural sector supported a $2.3 billion economic impact in Massachusetts and supported 71,000 jobs statewide. The vibrancy and health of our sector is critical to the overall economic success of the Commonwealth. We belong in a jobs bill.

A Call to Action

The 2020 jobs/economic development bond bill is an important tool for state government to invest in programs managed by state agencies to help the economy rebuild post-COVID.  The House and Senate conferees have a monumental task before them: reconciling two large, policy-heavy, multi-million-dollar bond bills into a final compromise report.

As described above, there are four proposals (three new grant programs worth $31 million in new capital spending authorizations and the establishment of a COVID recovery commission) relevant to the cultural sector in the House and Senate economic development bond bills; Mass Cultural Council hopes that all are retained in the final conference report.  On August 3 our Acting Executive Director Dave Slatery formally submitted written testimony to the conferees outlining the Agency’s priorities and recommendations while our statewide advocacy partner, MASSCreative, launched an advocacy campaign to engage artists, creative individuals, and cultural organizations.

A call to action has been issued to the cultural sector: it is time to email your State Representative and State Senator now – ask them to contact Leadership and the Economic Development Conferees and urge them to invest robustly in the cultural sector.

August 3, 2020 Testimony Submitted to the Conferees

The following testimony was delivered on August 3, 2020 to the Conference Committee on the 2020 Economic Development bond bill:

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