(The Center Square) – More than 100 people made their pleas for a portion of $2.9 billion in funding allocated to Massachusetts from the American Rescue Plan Act in a 6½-hour meeting of the Legislature's Joint Ways and Means Committee.
Gov. Charlie Baker announced in June he was setting aside the funds to “jump-start the Commonwealth’s economic recovery and support residents hardest-hit by COVID-19, such as lower-wage workers and communities of color.”
The committee met last week to hear from cabinet members, elected leaders and stakeholders from the areas of economic development, including transportation and arts and tourism, climate and infrastructure.
Baker’s plan designates $450 million for economic development, including downtown development projects and support for cultural facilities and tourism throughout the state. An additional $1 billion has been set aside for infrastructure.
Jamey Tesler, who leads the state Department of Transportation, said the resources are needed.
“These pieces of our infrastructure are being tested every day as we experience storms and events like last week," Tesler told the committee.
Tourism has been greatly affected during the pandemic, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy told the committee. He said plans for the ARPA funds include improving facilities and destinations visited by in-state and out-of-state travelers and promoting and advertising in-state tourism.
The goal is to increase visitation, entice repeat visitors, and increase the direct and indirect economic impacts of the tourism industry with targeted investment to support the recovery of the sector.
Baker’s plan sets aside $400 million for water and sewer upgrades and $300 million for culverts, dams and other environmental infrastructure.
Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides told the committee that 290 of the state’s 1,400 dams were considered a high hazard and that most of the state’s 25,000 culverts and small bridges were built more than 70 years ago.
Theoharides presented her testimony from the valley of the Merrimack River, where 35 combined sewage overflow events dumped more than 200 million gallons of untreated waste in the river before Tropical Storm Ida. The situation is not likely to get better, she said.
“When we have these heavy downpours, we will have more CSO events leading to more pollution,” Theoharides said.
Another public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21 to discuss projects related to health care, mental health, substance abuse disorder, public health and human services.