BOSTON >> The latest draft of a major economic development bill moving toward the House floor for debate on Thursday would authorize more than $915 million in borrowing over the next five years, roughly on par with the bottom line of the bill Gov. Charlie Baker filed in January.
The bill, which was bulked up as it moved through the Ways and Means Committee, includes the governor's request for $500 million to recapitalize the MassWorks infrastructure program. The authorization, which exceeds the three-year, $300 million recommendation of another legislative committee, would give the administration "breathing room" in the coming years as it looks to issue its first new round of grants this fall, according to an administration official.
The Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee had downsized Baker's plan to three years and reduced funding levels accordingly, but House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey padded the bottom line with additional MassWorks funding, as well as $107 million for a new initiative to upgrade the cranes used at Massport's Conley Terminal.
With a project underway to dredge parts of Boston Harbor to open the port to larger shipping vessels, the new funding, which would attract federal matching funds, could eventually be needed to purchase new cranes and equipment to accommodate the larger ships.
The Ways and Means version of the bill would also officially add fantasy sports to the list of gaming activities allowed under Massachusetts law and would create a commission to study all aspects of fantasy contests, including taxation and implications for existing gaming.
House leaders also added language put together by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg to address the recent controversy over whether Nashoba Valley Winery should be allowed to hold licenses to serve homemade wines, beers and spirits at both its vineyard-distillery and its on-site restaurant. Attorney General Maura Healey had been working to resolve the dispute with alcohol regulators without legislation, but Goldberg's proposal would make clear in law that businesses like Nashoba Valley could operate with pouring licenses at both businesses.
The administration said it will be looking for some clarifications, but has no major objections to the additions made to the bill as it has wound its way through the legislative process.
One question that remains unanswered about the bill is whether it will be considered a "money bill," which would allow House and Senate lawmakers to propose any type of tax amendment. Amendments in the House are due by 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
House Clerk Steve James said he is reviewing the bill with that in mind, but a least one senator believes a proposed tax deduction for college savings could be a green light for tax amendments.