Senate Passes Sen. Lesser’s Regional Ballot Initiatives Proposal as Part of Sweeping Economic Development Bill

BOSTON — The State Senate passed an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Boncore to a sweeping economic development bill on Wednesday that would allow local communities to band together and raise funds for regional transportation projects by local ballot measures.

The ballot initiatives would empower regions like the Pioneer Valley, the Berkshires and the Cape, as well as Greater Boston, to supplement their state and federal transportation funding dollars with local revenues to advance their unique regional priorities.

The initiatives would help regional planning agencies, city and town governments, and construction contractors budget and plan for local projects ahead of time, instead of waiting on state or federal funds.

“Given the age of our infrastructure and the limited amount of state aid allocated to local communities, these ballot initiatives give us a new way to invest in our infrastructure. We wouldn’t have to wait for Boston to approve East-West Rail — we could start raising the funds and laying the groundwork ourselves,” said Sen. Lesser. “Regional transportation ballot initiatives empower voters in individual communities — who know their streets better than anyone else, who know which projects are urgent — to choose the projects that receive their tax dollars.”

While Sen. Lesser originally introduced the ballot initiatives proposal as a standalone bill at the beginning of the session, the amendment to the Economic Development Bill was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop), who serves as the Senate Chair of the Committee on Transportation.

“With the lack of funding dedicated to transportation, Regional Ballot Initiatives will allow municipalities to develop their region’s specific transportation needs,” said Sen. Boncore.

More than 30 states, including California and Michigan, allow voters to make these transportation funding decisions by ballot. The initiatives put on the ballot have passed 70 to 80 percent of the time, often with wide margins, in districts across the political spectrum. Poll results from these states show that these local ballot measures enjoy bipartisan support.

The proposal to allow regional ballot initiatives was added to a larger economic development bill that boosts support for Massachusetts startups and entrepreneurs, and authorizes targeted state investments in infrastructure projects and worker retraining.

The  bill, S. 2625 An Act relative to economic development in the Commonwealth, authorizes $75 million in competitive grants for technical education and workforce training programs and $200 million in bonds to the MassWorks Infrastructure Program that will support thousands of jobs in economic development and community revitalization projects.

The economic development bill will now be negotiated with a version passed by the House of Representatives before going to the Governor’s desk.

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