Thursday, July 12, 2012
House jobs bill could hit Senate floor next week

Boston — A Senate committee could release House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s job creation and economic development bill Thursday, according to a key senator.

Senate Bonding Committee Chairman Sen. Brian Joyce said the bill would be referred to Ways and Means and possibly reach the Senate floor for a vote sometime next week.

“We are working on it even as we speak. It’s got an awful lot of material in there that we’ve been scrutinizing. There are some very good ideas. We’re looking at adding a component to help spark increased energy efficiency projects in Massachusetts,” Joyce told the News Service Wednesday evening.

Joyce said the committee was looking to revamp a program known as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, that has failed to generate the interest lawmakers had hoped when it approved the program several years ago.

Under the PACE program, cities and towns are allowed to issue bonds to provide homeowners and businesses an opportunity to become more energy efficient, and the loans get repaid through a charge on their property tax bills.

“It hasn’t caught on like we wanted it to,” Joyce said.

Senators are exploring the possibility of allowing MassDevelopment to issue bonds to provide low-income loans for industrial and commercial building owners to invest in energy efficiency projects.

“This could spur jobs in the building trades, an area hard hit by job losses, and reduce property owners’ energy expenses, giving them more discretionary income to invest in more jobs,” Joyce said.

While job creation was a top goal of many lawmakers heading into the 2011-2012 session, economic development legislation has been slow to take shape. Supporters of a casino law approved last November touted the promise of thousands of new jobs and new government revenues, but the industry, which saw a casino bill deal collapse in the summer of 2010, is still far from taking shape in Massachusetts.

Formal sessions are scheduled to end in three weeks and if a jobs bill clears the Senate, House and Senate negotiators will have little time to strike a compromise before July 31.

The House passed its economic development bill in late May. It included a new $50 million innovation investment fund to support research and development at universities and research centers where House leaders say the state's economic strengths lie. The bill also included a new manufacturing grant program to support small businesses, increased funding to advance large economic projects, expanded efforts to expedite permitting, included $2 million to match stipends in the private sector for tech startup interns and called for a two-year extension on state and local permits for projects that have been unable to move forward due to tight credit markets.