Baker vetoes Rural Growth Fund

  • In this Dec. 3, 2020, file photo, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks after touring the DCU Center as it gears up to be used as a COVID-19 field hospital for the second time in Worcester. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2021 9:33:35 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A program championed by local legislators that promised to provide $100 million in economic development money to rural Massachusetts has been vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The Massachusetts Rural Growth Fund is a proposed six-year program that would have allowed for the distribution of $60 million in tax credits to those who invest in small businesses in rural communities in the state. Qualified fund managers would have had to apply to participate in the program and create rural growth funds, and a maximum of $100 million would have been able to have been invested under it. The program would have been overseen by the Massachusetts Office of Business Development.

Baker, however, expressed concern in a message to the Senate and House explaining the veto, saying that the credits would not function as intended.

"Experience with similar programs in other states demonstrates that these tax credits are likely to provide much greater benefit to the corporate investors who receive the credits than to the rural communities it is supposed to help,” Baker said.

He also said that the credits could go to communities that are not truly rural. At the same time, Baker said he was committed to making a greater direct investment in rural communities.

Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said that the governor’s veto came as a complete surprise to her.

“This administration is leaving rural communities behind, again and again and again,” she said.

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said that programs like this have worked in other states. And Hinds said that to qualify for investments from the program, a business must have  fewer than 250 employees and have made $10 million or less the previous year. They also would have to be located in a rural area, which is defined under the legislation as fewer than 500 residents per square mile according to the latest census. Blais noted that this is the definition of a rural area used by the state.

Blais said that she takes what the governor wrote as a promise to directly invest in rural Massachusetts.

“I’m going to make sure he follows through on that promise,” she said.

She also said that she would be reintroducing the Rural Growth Fund legislation.

Another priority of Blais, the creation of an Office of Rural Policy, did not pass in the recently concluded legislative session. The head of this office would be charged with looking out for the best interests of the state’s rural communities, and to work with the Rural Policy Advisory Commission. Under the latest legislation, the office would be housed in the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

“I will absolutely continue to pursue that,” Blais said.

And she expressed the hope that more certainty in this year’s budget will allow the office to be created and funded.

“Clearly there needs to be a better understanding from the administration about what’s actually happening on the ground in our rural communities,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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