By Bob Katzen
The Senate 38-0, approved a bond bill allowing the state to borrow up to $2.2 billion for climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection and investment in recreational assets. The House has approved a different version of the bill and a House-Senate conference committee will try to hammer out a compromise.
The package includes earmarks for hundreds of millions of dollars for hundreds of projects in legislators’ districts across the state — most of which will never be funded. The Baker administration ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded, but it cannot fund most of them because the governor’s office is also required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap.
Provisions include $475 million for the construction, reconstruction and repair of forests, parks, campgrounds, comfort stations, harbor islands, skating rinks, skate parks, swimming and wading pools, spray parks, golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts, ball fields, playgrounds and exercise and fitness paths, $60 million for the construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of seawalls, jetties and retaining walls; and $180 million for state and local dams; and $95 million for water and air quality protection.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and approved on a voice vote would ban stores from providing single-use carryout bags to customers at the point of sale starting in August 2019.
“There is no need for our sea life or wildlife to have such an ending of their lives,” Eldridge said, citing a whale that died in Thailand that had 80 plastic bags in its stomach.”
“A goal of the Environmental Bond Bill is to preserve our natural resources and promote economic growth, while at the same time maintaining fiscal responsibility,” said Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), Senate Chair of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “We are fortunate in Massachusetts, especially in our area, to have so many wonderful natural resources that make our region an ideal place to live and work. This bill is a prime example of how Massachusetts continues to lead in environmental stewardship; strengthening our commitment to the environment, while maintaining our ability to address our budget needs.”
“Massachusetts experienced three severe coastal storms this past winter,” said Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “It’s clear that the commonwealth, and the South Shore in particular, need to make significant investments in order to improve our resiliency during these events. The investments in the environmental bond bill will allow us to bolster our power grids, strengthen our seawalls, and be better prepared for climate change.”
No senators voted against the bill but when the House passed its version a few weeks ago, there were three votes against it. “Over the last month or so, the House has approved nearly $10 billion in bond spending,” said Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), one of the opponents at the time. “We are already at the top of the list for states with the highest debt per capita. We can’t continue to saddle our children with enormous debt.”