Speaker DiMasi Unveils New Privatization Plan for State Lands
Fast-track Permitting to Deliver Free land, infrastructure, and Tax breaks
by John Andrews, MCHC, March 20, 2005
Speaking to a breakfast of business leaders in Boston, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi unveiled his plan for disposing of state land by establishing a new fast-track permitting process. According to DiMasi, state agencies would take over the permitting process and provide the land, “essential infrastructure”, and freedom from state excise taxes for a five year period. In exchange, the corporate recipients would agree to locate at least 100-125 new jobs on the site.
Allowing businesses to take control of the properties without investing their own capital would represent a significant state subsidy for the large corporations who could qualify. According to an article in the Boston Globe, “DiMasi has not determined whether the land would be leased to companies at market rate or whether they would get a discount.”
This proposal appears to be DiMasi’s replacement for the fast-track auction law (Outside Section 548) which lawmakers attached to the state budget in 2003. That law was headed for renewal until a coalition of citizen groups began to organize grassroots opposition to it. As the law became increasingly controversial, Democratic Party legislators backed away from it and began to criticize the Romney Administration for continuing to support it.
Referring to the fast-track auction process, DiMasi asked “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?”
However, citizen groups criticized the DiMasi proposal as just the latest effort by Beacon Hill insiders to do favors for their corporate friends at public expense, while neglecting the communities’ longstanding right to guide the use of public land for the public good.
According to Jill Stein, president of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities “As a first order of business, any law that determines the fate of public lands should not be decided in the backrooms of Beacon Hill – where Outside Sections are used to skirt the democratic process. The future of public land must be deliberated in the light of day, with public input from the affected communities, and with recorded votes. Such a process would stop the proposed corporate give-away of public lands in its tracks. Public input would underscore that what is needed is a process of community-driven smart growth. Whether a particular surplus property should be used for affordable housing, open space or business development should not be decided by a state agency or by an auction. It should be decided through a democratic planning process involving the people who will live with the permanent consequences.”
Stein said that the coalition seeking repeal of the fast-track auction law would probably oppose the latest privatization scheme because “Fast-track auctions and fast-track permitting are both attempts to give corporate players an end-run around the community planning process. City councils and boards of selectmen have good reason to oppose this effort to take away the right of municipalities to guide the use of public lands within their borders. This is the latest move in a trend that takes power away from municipalities and concentrates it in ever-more-powerful state agencies.
Representative Daniel Bosley, co-chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies expressed unabashed enthusiasm for this plan which will be “giving them land” instead of “just throwing money at businesses.” Economist Alan Clayton-Matthews of University of Massachusetts, however, commented that such incentives to lure business to relocate or expand have had generally “unimpressive results.” None the less, the DiMasi announcement was received warmly by Romney spokesperson Shawn Feddeman who called it “an exciting development”.
Boston Globe. DiMasi to seek tax breaks for job creation. Scott Greenberger. 3/18/05.
More information on fast-track permitting
DiMasi Joins Romney in Campaign for New Permitting Plan