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Mass. Gov. Baker Will Need Some Legislative Support For Parts Of Economic Package

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker unveiled a package last week aimed at boosting the state's economy. The $775 million package is aimed at helping out small businesses and bolster workforce development programs. 

Some of the initiatives have been announced before, and others are going to need legislative approval. 

Reporter and editor Matt Murphy of the State House News Service joins us to talk about the week ahead.

Adam Frenier, NEPM: Will lawmakers OK this?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: Some of it, I think, you can expect them to OK. The question is whether or not they're going to agree with some of the funding sources.

For instance, the governor has about $100 million in his proposed budget that would go newly towards a small business recovery program. The problem is how he pays for it, with the sales tax acceleration collection reform that lawmakers have multiple times rejected in the past, because they think it's too cumbersome for small businesses.

The other piece of this is a capital borrowing program. There is a close-to-$300 million bill currently being negotiated by the House and the Senate that could help businesses into the next couple of years, with grants and other support, that is being talked about. Some form of that will probably get passed before the end of the year.

Baker has continued to say that federal support is going to be needed to help deal with the economic impact of the pandemic. How much more can the state do, like this recent proposal by Baker, without getting new rounds of federal assistance from Washington?

Like we just talked about, some of these capital grant programs can be recapitalized as part of the state's traditional borrowing year after year. But we're talking tens of millions of dollars.

The new grant program the governor proposed last week was about $50 million for small businesses. In the Heroes Act, the state was expecting billions in support, which would really free up the budget to continue to do a lot more of the things that businesses need, and help them buy supplies, like PPE, and a whole lot of other things. That's why you're seeing the governor say this is not a substitute for federal relief package.

COVID-19 numbers remain on the rise in Massachusetts, including an increasing percentage of positive tests. If things continue the way they have, do you see the Baker administration walking back some of the reopening steps they've taken? As the governor talks about helping the economy, isn't it possible he'll decide again to close more sectors if this trend continues?

It certainly is possible. I think what you're hearing from the governor is that they're not anxious to go back to what they did in March and April, and just put a blanket shutdown on the economy. We saw last week that they walked back the reopening of ice skating rinks, for instance, because the state's contact tracing program identified more than 30 clusters linked to ice hockey tournaments, games and practices.

The potential is there that this could happen in other sectors, if the state observes and collects information that certain business types, certain activities, are causing spikes or clusters of COVID-19.

Early voting continued over the weekend, but late last week, the secretary of state's office said 30% of registered voters had already cast ballots. With vote-by-mail so popular, are you hearing chatter about Massachusetts making this a permanent thing for future elections?

Yeah, it is definitely on people's minds on Beacon Hill. The latest reports over the weekend are over a million people have now voted by mail. That's probably more than a quarter of the total ballots that will be cast of this election.

There is talk about what to do moving forward. I've also talked with some town clerks who think some form of this is here to stay. The question is, how do you pay for it? Because while it's being done this year under extreme circumstances and trying times, the clerks recognize that this workload is not a sustainable model for future elections.

So if the legislature wants this to stay for good, they would probably have to provide some support for cities and towns — or they could modify the way this works, and reduce it.

Keep up here with Beacon Hill In 5.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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