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DiMasi Joins Romney in Campaign for New Permitting Plan
By Jim O’Sullivan
State House News Service

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 17, 2005…Calling the current system “a nightmare,” House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi on Thursday announced a plan to pre-permit surplus state-owned land for companies, part of an effort to create jobs and boost the Massachusetts economy.

DiMasi’s proposal, one piece in a broader House economic strategy he said is still taking shape, would hold the state more responsible for permitting, exempt some businesses from state excise taxes for five years, and target the high-tech sector by promoting “cluster” developments. Both government and business officials frequently cite the state’s laborious permitting process, which averages two years, as a significant obstacle to attracting companies.

“Why should we sell off state land for a quick cash infusion when you can leverage these properties for long-term sustainable investment by the private sector?” DiMasi said during remarks to business leaders at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Hyatt Regency.

“Our permitting process in Massachusetts for businesses is a nightmare,” said DiMasi, a Boston Democrat. “Too often I hear that some companies that are here and want to be here move to other states. That’s very frustrating to me.”

He also said the state’s health care system is in “crisis,” and reform are needed to reduce the number of uninsured and “underinsured” and offer more assistant to “those who have linguistic and cultural barriers to health care.” The speaker’s remarks came two weeks after Gov. Mitt Romney filed an economic stimulus package that would streamline the permitting process and guarantee approvals within 180 days in selected areas. DiMasi said his alternative, in addition to leasing state land to companies, differs by granting increased autonomy in the process to cities and towns.

DiMasi spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin said his plan is still developing, but its essence calls for state agencies to identify and license surplus land for proposed business development and provide essential infrastructure.

Companies who commit to 100 new jobs and a 5 percent employment growth rate over five years will be able to lease the spaces from the state and free of corporate excise tax for five years.

The clustered development offerings would draw technology sector businesses, a target market for the Legislature as it fast-tracks funding incentives for stem cell research.

“Our permitting process, in particular for businesses, is a nightmare. There’s no doubt about it,” DiMasi said, calling easier permitting “a turnkey” to economic growth.

“Together, we can cut through red tape, provide real tax incentives, and demonstrate that we understand how to attract new business and create expansion opportunities for existing businesses,” DiMasi said.

Luring new businesses to the Bay State has proved difficult since the economy’s decline began in 2001. The state has 181,000 fewer jobs than it did at the high point in February 2001, with a net loss of 20,000 since January 2003. DiMasi said tax revenues this year, while slightly ahead of predictions, could still fall below 2001 tax collections.

“Our once impressive status as a national headquarters for important industries is growing more and more precarious as mergers and consolidations move the fulcrum of decision making power out of state,” DiMasi said.

Both the DiMasi and Romney plans pleased business leaders, who said the state’s harrowing process of permitting land for companies has acted as a drag on the economic recovery.

“The issue of permitting is critical,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent public policy group. “It’s probably the number-one impediment to economic development in this state. The long and bureaucratic permitting process is a major obstacle.”

“There’s hard evidence that this approach, with pre-permitted, ready-to-go sites as an offering, works,” Regan said. DiMasi touched on a number of issues of interest to the business community, promising a state Broadband Advisory Council would formulate a plan to “facilitate the creation of a seamless statewide high-speed data access system,” with wireless technology.

Nearly seven months into his term, DiMasi has only recently begun to roll out specific policy proposals. DiMasi’s permitting proposal came just weeks after Romney used the same venue on Feb. 23 to unveil his own at the same Hyatt Regency near Downtown Crossing. Answering questions after his speech, DiMasi voiced support for Matthew Amorello, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman who oversees the Big Dig, two days after Romney stepped up pressure on Amorello to resign.

“I don’t see any reason why Matt Amorello, at this particular time,” should resign, he said. Speaking with reporters later, DiMasi said, “Everybody’s talking about what went wrong in the past and who’s to blame. We need to talk about what we can do to fix it.”

Asked by an audience member if he supported a plan by some top state Democrats to toughen the party’s nomination requirements and move the primary from September to the spring, DiMasi laughed and replied, “I’m not running for governor, so basically I don’t care.”

After an introduction from chamber Chairman Paul Guzzi, who said he was”secretly delighted that a fellow Italian-American is speaking” on St. Patrick’s Day, DiMasi, holding up his tie with green shamrocks, cracked, “The Irish don’t have much taste in clothing ‚ or in food, by the way. I’m all excited about the breakfast on Sunday, looking forward to that corned beef and cabbage, something my mother said she’d punish me with if I was bad when I was young.”

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