Gateway Cities Leaders Argue for Tax Credits

By Brian Boyd
BOSTON — New Bedford and other struggling cities in the state could revive their economies if given more means to encourage development and historic restoration.
That was the message of mayors and other city officials who converged on Beacon Hill on Wednesday to seek the help of state lawmakers. They testified before the Joint Committee on Revenue in favor of a bill designed to spur growth in New Bedford, Fall River and other “Gateway Cities” through tax credits.
“We meet with investors on a regular basis who are very interested in bringing economic development projects into our great cities,” New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang said during a morning hearing. “The problem is that we don’t have the inducements.”
The city has at least five development projects that are waiting to secure limited historic tax credits and other incentives in order to move forward, Lang said in an interview afterward.
The legislation contains provisions developed by the Gateway Cities Coalition, a group of 11 cities outside the Boston area that formed last year. A 2007 MassINC-Brookings Institution report identified the 11 communities as traditional manufacturing cities missing out on the knowledge-driven economy, and it suggested ways to revive them.
Proposals in the bill include removing limits on the historic rehabilitation tax credit in Gateway Cities, providing employers a $2,500 tax credit for every new job created in one of the cities, and creating a housing tax credit designed to encourage market-rate housing.
“This is not about handouts,” said Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, during a news conference following the hearing. “This is about creating a toolbox for these communities to once again lead the economic recovery in Massachusetts.”
The Joint Committee on Revenue will research how much the tax credit proposals would cost if enacted, and how the resulting development might offset those costs with additional income, sales and corporate tax revenue, said Cabral, sponsor of the bill, in an interview afterward.
The Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies is also looking at similar issues and might support measures as part of economic legislation, he said.
Asked which committee will move the matter forward, Cabral said he would be happy with whatever committee acts the quickest.
Former Fall River Mayor Edward M. Lambert Jr., director of UMass Dartmouth’s Urban Initiative, said the Gateway Cities are ready to play leading roles again if they are given the right economic tools.
“Each and every one of these cities has the potential to drive their regional economies in a very positive way,” Lambert said during the news conference.
The state already offers $500 million in tax incentives, but they could be better targeted, he said. He was confident that the recession does not hurt their case, arguing the careful use of these incentives could create a more sustainable recovery.
“I think it’s really one of the first, if not the only time, that we have seen 11 communities bonded together to work on a common cause,” said John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC.
October 01, 2009
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