By Bob Katzen
The House 155-4, Senate 39-0, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a $1 billion-plus information technology bond titled “An Act Financing the General Governmental Infrastructure of the Commonwealth.” The state would borrow the funds to finance the projects in the bill. The original version of the package was filed by Baker more than a year ago on April 11, 2019.
“This legislation provides authorizations for critical public safety and information technology projects at the state and municipal level,” said Baker in the message he sent along with the original bill. “The projects in the bill will improve the quality, consistency, efficiency and delivery of state services to the residents of Massachusetts, including digital services for healthcare, housing, education, employment assistance, public safety and emergency management, transportation, and energy and the environment.”
Hundreds of provisions in the bill include massive state projects including $165 million for state telecommunications and data-security-related equipment; $140 million for the purchase and implementation of information technology, telecommunications and data-security-related items for various state agencies; $1.25 million for information technology upgrades for the House of Representatives; $40 million to replace State Police cruisers; and $20 million for policy body cameras.
And then there are hundreds of local projects successfully sought by individual legislators for their districts including $500,000 for New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoological Society’s infrastructure improvements for the animal ambassador and nature connection education center projects; $61,200 to update the town hall conference room’s streaming technology for the local cable services in Stoughton; $15,000 for Medfield for the implementation of an electronic payroll program; and $1 million for Everett for electronic learning devices for all Everett students and virtual professional development, training and remote learning support for their teachers.
“I’m happy. It’s a good bill,” said Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport). “It’s necessary to ensure that we have the appropriations necessary to continue our investments in IT and general government, and I’m glad it was done.”
“The Legislature is using a new tactic, which is to borrow money in hopes the public doesn’t catch on,” said Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “If this package was funded through tax hikes, there would have been a more robust debate for how to pay for it. Many of the election year pet project earmarks would have been left out. Unfortunately, lawmakers know the public doesn’t pay attention to state debt so they were able to add more debt to the most indebted state in the country.”