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Baker Hopes Infrastructure Bill Includes 'Big Piece' On Climate

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in Quincy on March 31, 2021.
Stuart Cahill
Boston Herald / Pool / State House News Service
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker in Quincy on March 31, 2021. He says climate resilience projects are connected with "how you save money in the long run associated with infrastructure."

Talks about infrastructure investments at the federal level should include plans for "a pretty significant investment" in climate resilience, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday as details emerged about President Biden's $2.25 trillion infrastructure and climate plan.

Biden announced his American Jobs Plan with a speech in Pittsburgh Wednesday. The White House says the infrastructure and climate proposal can be fully paid for in 15 years if passed alongside a corporate tax plan that, along with other measures, would raise the corporate tax rate to 28%.

The infrastructure package proposes $621 billion towards transportation projects, including road and bridge repair, transit expansion and modernization, addressing an Amtrak repair backlog, electric vehicle incentives and airport improvements, according to a White House summary.

Along with other measures like replacing all lead pipes that carry drinking water, upgrading child care facilities and expanding access to high-speed broadband, it also calls for $50 billion in infrastructure resilience improvements targeting the electric grid, food systems, transportation assets, vulnerable communities and more.

At a Wednesday morning event in Quincy, Baker said he didn't know the details of Biden's bill but that climate resilience represents a "great opportunity" for the federal government to work with state and local officials.

Baker said that resilience efforts are "not exactly on everybody's top 10, maybe even not their top 20 list of things that needs to be dealt with when it comes to infrastructure" but are "how you save money in the long run associated with infrastructure."

"FEMA, the federal agency that's constantly cleaning up and mopping up and reinvesting after hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and polar vortexes and all the other stuff that's been going on for the past few years, will tell you that they spent more money rebuilding certain parts of this country in the past three or four years than they spent the previous 20," he said. "Now if we just go ahead and rebuild it exactly as it was, the next time some climate disaster comes through, the same thing is going to happen, and I really do hope that if people are serious about putting together this idea of climate and infrastructure that there's a big piece in this bill to help us create a resilient infrastructure."

In January 2019, Baker filed a bill that sought to raise the state's deeds excise tax to help cities and towns prepare for and adjust to climate change. That bill withered in the legislature last session, ultimately dying in October 2020 when the Revenue Committee included it in an order for further study.

The House in July 2019 passed a roughly $1.3 billion borrowing bill centered around grants to help communities confront climate change impacts, which was never brought to the floor for a vote in the Senate.

"We filed legislation to make it possible for us to invest a billion dollars in infrastructure resiliency. The legislature has pursued a variety of other approaches," Baker said Wednesday. "We haven't been able to land on one yet that people can agree on, but I certainly hope that as the federal government moves forward in this conversation about infrastructure and about climate, that they incorporate a pretty significant investment in resiliency as part of that."

Last week, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides told state budget writers that the administration's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program now has enrolled 89% of all municipalities but will not be able to keep up with the funding necessary to address climate adaptation. For the most recent round, the program got $45 million worth of requests and had just $10.45 million to allocate.

"We've seen the need again and again to build resilient communities to prepare in advance for that next big storm and to help our environmental justice communities that are least able to adapt to a changing climate access funding and support to protect our most vulnerable residents. Our MVP program has been incredibly successful, but the current funding mechanism is simply not enough," she told the Joint Ways and Means Committee. "Cities and towns across Massachusetts are in dire need of funding and assistance to protect their residents from the impacts of climate change, and a dedicated predictable revenue stream is a critical tool in protecting our most vulnerable populations."

Theoharides said the Baker administration "look[s] forward to seizing the opportunity in this new session to develop an implement a new sustainable funding source to build the communities of tomorrow, create jobs and economic activity as we recover from the pandemic, [and] repair and improve our aging infrastructure."

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