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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Good to see governor in the Berkshires again, but we'll have to wait and see on bond bills

When we congratulated Maura Healey on stepping into the governor’s office, one simple thing we suggested to a leader pledging to better serve all of Massachusetts is to show up. Come see and discuss in person how statewide and regionally unique issues are felt in the Berkshires.

So far, so good on that front. Just as we were glad to see Gov.-elect Healey visit the Berkshires soon after her electoral victory in November, we were pleased to see Gov. Healey make a westward trip again soon after her inauguration, this time to North Adams. The governor said the location of Greylock Works was intentional, and we like what that implies: Seeing the wisdom of bold state reinvestment in the economic revitalization in Berkshire communities.

We also like to hear the leader of the state’s executive branch earnestly echo what regional residents have been saying for far too long. Like other more rural, less populous corners of the commonwealth far from Boston, many Berkshire communities feel overlooked in their struggles with not just economic development but housing affordability and crumbling public infrastructure.

Tied into these remarks was Gov. Healey’s announcement of the first two bills she plans to push. One was described as an “immediate needs bond bill” that would authorize $987 million in borrowing to fund state support of a local development projects ranging from housing and transit to public buildings and broadband. The other proposed bond bill would authorize the state to borrow $400 million to fund road and bridge repair.

These measures represent a good start to a conversation about ambitious and necessary reinvestment in Western Mass. communities brimming with potential and in need of a push. But they are truly just a start, since even if the governor’s bond bills do make it through the Legislature as proposed, they’re simply authorizations to borrow, as opposed to targeted commitment of that funding. Of course, we have to start somewhere, and the governor is now on record with some sound suggestions for how that funding could be utilized.

Of particular note is her proposal for nearly half of the $987 million “immediate needs” bond bill to go toward MassWorks, a key source of state development grants for towns and cities looking for the final piece of a funding puzzle on critical projects. That MassWorks funding proposal has bipartisan bona fides as a shrewd investment, too, as former Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in his administration’s waning days also pushed the Legislature to top up the key grant program’s dwindling pot. Indeed, a North Adams mill redeveloped for modern mixed use was a fine spot for Gov. Healey to underscore this, as Greylock Works was made possible in part by a $1.72 million MassWorks grant.

We agree with Gov. Healey that Greylock Works is an example of what relatively small but smart investment at the state level can mean for projects with big local impact, particularly in Western Mass. municipalities striving for revitalization. We hope the funding made available by these bond bills materializes to give life to what the governor rightly flags as “immediate needs” — especially for Berkshire communities where those needs have long lingered on our cracked roads, in outdated municipal buildings and for Berkshire working families trying to keep the lights on.

It’s good to have a governor who pledges to do something about that. It would be great to see an administration that follows those words with action. These bond authorization bills are small steps that at least suggest the right direction, and we hope other steps follow by not just floating funding but committing to that investment and targeting it where it’s been needed. We prefer to be optimistic for our communities, even if that optimism is tempered by years of regional inequity flowing down from Beacon Hill. It lends us a bit more optimism, though, to see Gov. Healey making it a priority to engage directly with our end of the commonwealth.

We hope that continues.

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