With the state’s fast-track auction law set to expire at the end of June, legislators are hard at work on several proposals to reauthorize some form of fast-tracking. Two separate measures are being circulated as “floor amendments” to the FY06 budget. Both measures keep key decisions in the hands of appointed bureaucrats and erect barriers to the reuse options that involve public interest uses or community-driven planning.
Floor amendment 790 is based primarily upon Section 17, the Romney Administration fast-track renewal that failed to win approval in the Supplemental Budget earlier this year. But it now includes authority for leasing of surplus lands for periods up to 99 years. This provision seems to be designed to facilitate Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi’s proposal for fast-track leasing of surplus properties to corporations as a means of stimulating “economic development”. Leasing of properties appears to be an option that , if exercised, halts all further opportunity for options favored by the community. It would extend the fast-tracking until the year 2010. This bill has attracted sponsorship from both major parties, including Republican Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading).
A second measure, Floor Amendment 1266, is based upon proposals put forth by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). This measure sets up a Surplus State Property Disposition Board that consists of Administration appointees and an MAPC appointee. This affected municipality is given only one non-voting ex officio representative to this board. For large properties, an Advisory Reuse Committee is formed, with the chair being appointed by DCAM. It includes provisions for giving MAPC planning grants of $10,000 to study each property within their area that is proposed for surplusing.
Both measures provide for a right of first refusal when communities wish to purchase the property from the state. This restores a right taken away by Outside Section 548. However, the time allotted for the community to raise funds is limited and no state funding assistance is provided to facilitate purchases. In the current fiscal crisis, purchase of property by municipalities has generally not been a viable option, so this provision is not expected to have a significant impact on the surplusing process.
Democratic legislators have switched back and forth on the issue as part of an apparent strategy to discredit Governor Romney. Earlier this year, legislators who had quietly voted for fast-tracking in 2003 denounced the measure and demanded that the Governor come out in favor of immediate repeal. Now most of these legislators appear prepared to go along with the House leadership and support Floor Amendment 790, which contains most of Romney’s proposals. Rep. Thomas Stanley, who earlier filed a bill to repeal Outside Section 548, has now endorsed Floor Amendment 790. (Stanley’s repeal bill was never taken up by the House.)
In both of the measures, the commissioner of DCAM has considerable latitude to steer the property to a particular reuse. If the Governor decides that a particular reuse is desired, then it would be doubtful that anyone in the Administration would dare advocate for another alternative. And despite the mention of “smart growth”, there is little real smart growth required in either bill. All smart growth planning ceases if the municipality is able to come up with the purchase price that DCAM is seeking.
Control of the major media by the power brokers is almost complete. So far, the Boston Globe has failed to print a single sentence acknowledging the citizen movement that started the repeal process and that is working for an alternative to the Beacon Hill plans. The Globe published an editorial calling for a “compromise” between the two Beacon Hill plans. The Boston Herald recently ran an editorial endorsing the Romney reauthorization position.
In order to justify rushing a new law into place as part of the budget bill, legislators have implied that reversion to the pre-fast-tracking laws must be avoided at all costs. Citizens who have been working for repeal of fast-tracking emphatically reject this claim as spin that is being used to get bad legislation through without public hearings and without testimony from affected communities.
According to Jill Stein, president of the Massachusetts Coalition for Health Communities, “Residents would do well to contact their legislators and call for a broader debate that considers the merits of community-based planning. Otherwise, the future of our public lands will be decided by state appointees whom few in the community would trust to act in their best interests. ”