Skip to content

Monthly Archives: June 2016



June 28, 2016


If you think that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston lavishing $270 million in tax breaks and direct aid on General Electric in exchange for moving their world headquarters to the Hubis unconscionable, you should realize that the deal is only a more extreme example of the existing government gravy train for corporations hereabouts. In fact, to focus on but one of several programs that give public money away to businesses for dubious reasons, the state government is already able to dole out a total of $30 million in Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP) tax credits each year to all approved corporate applicants.

But that’s apparently not enough for Charlie Baker. The governor sponsored an economic development bill in January (H.4413, formerly H.3983) that will allow the EDIP cap to be boosted to $50 million a year whenever another big GE-style deal is in the offing. And with the House expected to vote on it this week and the Senate next week, the proposed legislation is well on its way to passage.

The tax credits in question are approved by the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council (EACC)—a14-member board consisting of seven gubernatorial appointees (representing six regions of the Commonwealth and one institution of higher education) and seven high-level state government officials (one of those seats being currently vacant). The EACC meets quarterly to approve EDIP credits, and local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) credits proposed by qualified municipalities.

Interestingly, as reported in the Boston Business Journal, General Electric did not go for EDIP tax credits to help finance its new world headquarters in Boston. “It’s not necessarily that GE did not want EDIP credits or that the state felt infrastructure grants alone were the most attractive package, according to [Mass Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay] Ash. It’s that the state’s options for GE under the current incarnation of EDIP were limited.”

Baker’s economic development bill would make things significantly less limited for companies like GE —or, as the press buzz would have it, for the “next General Electric.” Because the already undemocratic EDIP process, overseen as it is by unelected staffers and appointees on the EACC, would be made even more undemocratic in the case of what the bill calls an “extraordinary economic development opportunity.” In a manner that CEOs on the make will find most advantageous.

And what exactly is an extraordinary economic development opportunity? It’s the situation that arises when a giant corporation like GE wants extraordinary amounts of state money to site facilities in the Commonwealth. To paraphrase the bill, if the secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development and the secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance agree that a corporation is going to build or rehabilitate a significant facility in Massachusetts, or relocate a business to Mass from a facility outside the Commonwealth—and either create at least 400 new jobs, or create at least 200 new jobs in a “gateway municipality” (state government speak for an economically depressed city) or in an adjacent city or town that is accessible by public transportation to residents of a gateway municipality—then it can be declared an extraordinary economic development opportunity and become eligible for much bigger EDIP tax credits than have been allowed heretofore. So large that the EEAC will be allowed to extend the total amount of EDIP credits it’s allowed to hand out in a single year from $30 million to as much as $50 million.

To clarify, let’s say that there are 29 companies each getting $1 million in EDIP tax credits in a particular year. Then a big company like GE comes along, and also qualifies for $1 million—which means that the EEAC has given out the $30 million in tax credits it’s allowed to disburse annually. Under H.4413, the big company can then be declared an extraordinary economic development opportunity and qualify for up to another $20 million. Reaching the special new cap of $50 million in EDIP credits for that year.

Two points to consider here:

  • First, the above bill language is clearly aimed at enticing large companies like GE to move major facilities here from another state. And perhaps GE is planning to go back to the public trough and apply for the newly expanded EDIP tax credits if the bill passes. One might even surmise that this language was written just for GE.
  • Second, such a move cannot be stopped by normal means. According to the bill, the “decision by the secretaries to designate or not to designate a proposed project as an extraordinary economic development opportunity shall be a decision that is within the sole discretion of each of the secretaries, and may include such conditions as the secretaries shall in their discretion impose.  Such decisions shall be final and shall not be subject to administrative appeal or judicial review under chapter 30A or give rise to any other cause of action or legal or equitable claim or remedy.”

Thus vast sums can be given away to big business by the Baker administration and its successors to favored corporations with no easy possibility of reversal.

Shocked? Outraged? Good. There’s still time to stop H.4413. Make GE Pay, the grassroots coalition that’s working to stop the GE Boston deal, has announced that they are working with Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D – Acton) and other legislators to remove—or at least improve—the EDIP cap section of the bill. Contact coalition coordinator Eli Gerzon ( for details. And follow Make GE Pay on Twitter (@makeGEpay) and on their Facebook page ( to keep up with all the latest.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Since the list of current Economic Assistance Coordinating Council members is not on the Economic Development Incentive Program website, EDIP staff was kind enough to provide a copy upon request:

CY 2016 EACC Board Members

Director of the Office of Business Development (or Designee) – Co-Chair
Ms. Carolyn Kirk (Ex Officio)

Director of Department of Housing and Community Development (Designee) – Co-Chair
Mr. Louis A. Martin (designee) (Ex Officio)

Director of Career Services (or Designee)
Mr. Ken Messina (designee) (Ex Officio)

Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development (or Designee)
VACANT (designee) (Ex Officio)

Representative of MOBD designated by the Director of Office of Business Development
Mr. Nam Pham (Ex Officio)

Representative of MOBD designated by the Director of Office of Business Development
Ms. Annamarie Kersten (Ex Officio)

Director, Commonwealth Corp. (or Designee)
Ms. Rebekah Lashman (designee) (Ex Officio)

Ms. Kathleen Anderson (Governor)

Mr. Paul F. Matthews (Governor)

Mr. Drake Behrakis (Governor)

Ms. Jennifer Menard (Governor)

Mr. David Keator (Governor)

Mr. Joseph J. Bevilacqua (Governor)

Representative of Higher Educational Institute
Dr. Michael D. Goodman Ph.D. (Governor)


 Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas.

Photo by Jason Pramas. Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas.

June 21, 2016


Problems with GE Fort Point arrangement show need for democratic economic development planning

A new wrinkle surfaced earlier this month in the plan to use a big chunk of the $270 million in public aid and tax breaks being shoveled at General Electric to buy two of the three buildings that are slated to make up its new headquarters in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood.

In part 5 of this ongoing series of columns on the GE Boston deal, I mentioned that said scheme called for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to purchase the two former Necco company buildings from Procter & Gamble—along with part of the big parking lot outside its Gillette plant—and lease the buildings back to General Electric. Soon after, it emerged that while GE would pay up to an estimated $100 million to refurbish the buildings and build a new third structure on the site, it would not be paying rent. At all. For the entire 20 years of the lease. And that the terms of the agreement struck with the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only put the vast multinational on the hook for “annual operating expenses, property taxes not abated or subject to a PILOT [Payment In Lieu of Taxes] agreement, and interior renovations costs.”

John Barros, Boston’s chief of economic development, subsequently insisted that despite the agreement making no mention of rent payments for the former Necco buildings, by gum there would be some kind of payments! Yet there has been no further news on what those payments might look like. Or if the company will, in fact, ever be asked to make any payments in exchange for using the buildings at all.

Key to the plan was BRA ownership of the buildings—because that allowed GE, a corporate behemoth infamous for making huge profits and paying very little in taxes, to use the part of the promised $120 million in state grants that wasn’t used by the BRA to purchase the buildings to rehab them and make other site improvements. Since the state money in question cannot be used on private property.

Now it turns out that the BRA won’t be involved in the deal at all. Instead, according to the Boston Business Journal (BBJ), the state’s economic development arm MassDevelopment will own the Necco buildings and the $120 million in state funds “would be used in [its] acquisition of the Necco buildings as well as to improve utilities at the site, create a public park and improve the existing Harborwalk.”

As regards the lack of rent, a rather uncritical April 1 BBJ piece, “Of course GE won’t pay rent in Boston, so stop bellyaching,” noted that “the revitalized site could generate roughly $1.75 million in annual gross tax revenues to the city.” An estimated $35 million over 20 years. The next day, the Boston Globe quoted a higher estimate using “City Hall” figures indicating that a “comparably sized office property in that part of the city” would pay $48 million in taxes over 20 years—which a later piece interpreted as the city pocketing $23 million over its $25 million in tax abatements to GE.

But when WGBH’s Jim Braude had interviewed Boston Mayor Marty Walsh a few days prior, hizzoner agreed there had been no discussion of GE paying taxes to the city to that point. After first putting it as an evasive double negative, “There’s been no discussion of not paying taxes.”

All that said, it comes down to this: The City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are giving millions of public dollars to a mind-blowingly wealthy conglomerate that doesn’t need it. To engineer the public purchase of two out of three headquarters buildings on which it will likely not pay much, if any, rent. Nor will GE likely pay significant taxes on the parts of the complex it is to own outright—if its past record as one of the biggest tax scofflaws in history is any guide.

The terms of the essentially secret deal that led to this situation—brokered by high public officials and GE leadership with no public oversight whatsoever—are already being violated. The place of the BRA in the complicated and highly questionable real estate transaction at the heart of the accord has now been taken by MassDevelopment. Once again with no opportunity for public comment or oversight.

Things just happen. Politicians and CEOs cut backroom deals. Much of the press lays down on the job. And the public gets shafted.

But what if the public didn’t have to bow down to private interests? What if we didn’t have to get shafted on deals like this? Imagine a Boston and a Massachusetts in which the public good—rather than short term gain for a few privileged actors—was the guiding political economic motivation.

Let’s say that the same city and state money being lavished on General Electric was put into something that many people have said was important—like strengthening and expanding the arts sector in Fort Point in ways that go much further than anything proposed in the city’s new arts plan. A sector that, after all, was largely responsible for making what the BRA likes to call the “Seaport District” attractive to big developers and corporate interests to begin with.

In that alternate Boston, the city and state would pull out of the GE deal. The state would buy the Necco buildings directly from P&G. Perhaps it would pick up the adjacent 253 Summer Street building as well. And it could even buy some of the available P&G parking lot and build desperately needed public housing—following the mixed-use zoning ideas for the area in the 2006 BRA “100 Acres Plan” a good deal more closely than that agency is at the moment. City and state money would refurbish the space as a creative industries incubator with an emphasis on new businesses run as worker-owned co-operatives. The focus of the project would be twofold. Create good arts jobs, and help Fort Point remain a major arts hub. That would be a much better use of public money than dumping it on GE. Especially because the entire development process would be transparent and subject to democratic oversight.

A robust popular movement will be required to make this kind of vision a reality. And such movements rarely appear on cue. But it sure would be nice if one did this time around.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.




June 10, 2016


Community needs to join Faculty Staff Union movement for a return to full funding

There is only one appropriate response to the looming layoff of 400 unionized non-tenure track faculty at UMass Boston. Rebellion.

We are well past the era of shots across the budgetary bow of public higher education in the Commonwealth. We are now in the era of kill shots. It is not possible to eliminate roughly one-third of the faculty of a major research university without destroying that university. One cannot run a school without teachers, after all. Teachers who are already denied the possibility of secure, properly-paid, full-time, tenure track faculty jobs—as has become the dominant practice at colleges across America.

So, the threatened faculty, the remaining faculty, the staff, their Faculty Staff Union (Mass Teachers Association), the other campus unions, the alumni, and—most importantly—the students and their families have to essentially declare war on state government. Now. The entire UMass Boston community needs to demand proper funding for the school. Or risk losing everything that generations of Bostonians have fought for. A public university of our own with an “urban mission” to provide a top flight education to its residents with as little expense to them as possible.

The proximate cause of the crisis is a combined $22.3 million deficit that the UMass Boston administration recently announced for this fiscal year and next. Their unfortunate response is to propose: increasing class sizes, raising tuition (yet again), and savagely cutting faculty jobs.

But the ultimate cause is the long term starvation of the public higher education budget by the Mass legislature. According to the Mass Budget and Policy Center, state funding for public higher education has fallen from $1,339,713,711 in FY 2001 to $1,187,476,006 in FY 2016 (numbers adjusted for inflation)—an 11.4 percent drop. Yet it’s worse than that statistic makes it seem since the budget was well below the FY 2001 figure every year between then and now. Meaning that the system has lost more than a billion dollars over the last decade and a half.

Put another way, the ultimate cause is ideological. And that ideology has a name: neoliberalism. Its central precepts of fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation, and union busting in the service of making the rich richer have been followed with near-religious intensity for decades by both major political parties in state governments and in the federal government alike.

In the present context, neoliberalism translates to refusing to fairly tax corporations and the rich—which would allow our public higher education system to be funded to a tolerable standard—trying to run colleges like for-profit businesses instead of nonprofit services, and transferring once-public costs to individual families. Forcing students to take out increasingly burdensome loans to stay in school. A recipe for disaster, if ever there was one.

Writ large over the entire state government, the neoliberal ideology has led to one crisis after another—in the public health system, in public K-12 education, in the public transportation systems, etc., etc. And will continue to do so until the disastrous course its political partisans have put us on is reversed by popular political action.

All signs point to a small increase (1-1.5 percent) in state spending on public higher ed in the final FY 2017 budget, but nowhere near enough to make up for the years of cuts. Or even to keep up with inflation, let alone forestall the crisis at UMass Boston.

Saving UMass Boston—and the Mass public higher ed system—is going to take a real struggle. The Faculty Staff Union and its allies are doing a fine job of protesting the cuts. But they need solidarity. Lots of it. The kind of movement required has to be statewide and systemwide. And even that probably won’t be enough. A reform of the necessary scale will need help from outside the public higher ed community. It will need the newly emboldened radicals from the Bernie Sanders campaign, #BlackLivesMatter and other rising social movements to join the fight.

That’s a tall order to be sure. But every journey starts with a first step. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Sign the UMass Boston Faculty Staff Union petition.
  2. Get on the “Stop the Hikes and Cuts” bus at UMass Boston on June 15 and join the UMB community in protesting the upcoming UMass Board of Trustees meeting.
  3. Drop an email to to get more involved.

Pressure on the UMass Boston administration is already mounting. That might explain why UMB Chancellor Keith Motley told the Boston Herald this week that “he has not approved any cuts on campus and that most staff who received pink slips would be called back for the fall.” Cold comfort for the 400 faculty members currently in limbo, unsure of whether they should start preparing for classes as usual—or continue looking for new gigs in a tight academic job market. And with UMass President Marty Meehan guaranteeing that budget cuts are coming to the entire UMass system by July, it doesn’t seem like Motley will be able to avoid finalizing the faculty layoffs for very long.

Unless he proposes cutting the often-outrageous administration salaries across the board to help balance the budget as public higher ed advocates have long suggested. Wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.

For a community perspective on the crisis at UMass Boston, check out the testimonial from recent graduate Cady Vishniac.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


Untitled drawing (2)

June 6, 2016


The Worst of the Senate FY 2017 State Budget Proposal

Continuing to track the worst proposed cuts at different stages of the vicious and dispiriting annual Massachusetts state budget process, it’s time for a look at the full Senate budget proposal.

As with my overviews of the worst cuts in the governor’s,  House Ways and Means Committee’s, House’s, and Senate Ways and Means Committee’s FY 2017 budget proposals, the numbers in this column are based on the analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases on an ongoing basis. In this case, the “Conference Preview: Differences Between the Senate and House Budgets for FY 2017.” For all the details, check out

Nothing really new to see here. To quote the current MPBC report, “In the end, the House and Senate budgets are very similar. Not only are the budget totals within 0.1 percent of each other (which makes sense since they had essentially the same amount of revenue to work with), but the two proposals are also within half of one percent of each other in every major category.”

And so it goes. There is no protection from the budget ax for programs that benefit huge numbers of Bay State residents. Especially with a $311 million budget deficit looming before the end of the current fiscal year – due to spring tax receipts that are significantly lower than the Baker administration’s rosy increased projections of January. We live in an era when politicians are reduced to spending their days wrangling over which group will get screwed more. With two exceptions: the rich and the corporations they control. The very groups that can no longer be taxed in a political system they have bought and paid for.

Environment & Recreation

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $11.4 million (5.36 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $201.4 million. A .14 percent smaller cut than the House proposal, after the Senate added back $5.1 million to this line during its full budget debate. Still a horrendous and ill-timed proposed reduction. And this far along in the budget process, one that is unlikely to be reversed.

Public Health

A minor bright spot. The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would add $2.5 million (.43 percent) to current FY 2016 levels for a total $582.9 million. By adding $5.9 million back to this line during its full budget debate – mostly for substance abuse prevention and treatment – the Senate has now joined the House and Governor in essentially level funding public health spending in the Commonwealth.

Housing (funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $38.8 million (7.94 percent) from current FY 2016 levels, after adding back $3.5 million during its full budget debate. Leaving $450.0 million. $3.8 million more than the House proposal. As the MBPC report points out, “the Senate’s budget, like the House budget, is about $40 million lower than FY 2016 current spending for the Emergency Assistance (EA) program that provides shelter to low-income, homeless families. If this lower funding level is included in the final FY 2017 budget, it is likely that the Legislature will be required to provide supplemental funding for the program because the cost of providing shelter for those who are homeless and eligible for shelter will probably exceed the amount appropriated.”

Transitional Assistance (aka welfare, funds for short-term help for poor individuals and families)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $26.7 million (3.84 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $667.1 million. Although the MBPC report doesn’t say it, this represents a $5.5 million cut from the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget proposal. So unlike the other lines reviewed here, the full Senate debate actually took more money away from its original proposal rather than adding any back. The poorest of the poor have few defenders in the legislature. And it shows.

Economic Development (funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $14.1 million (9.2 percent) from current FY 2016 levels, after adding back $8.8 million during its full budget debate. Leaving $139.1 million.

In his Apparent Horizon column of June 6, entitled “Austerity Budget, Part 4,” Jason Pramas did not properly reflect some changes in numbers used by the Mass Senate between their Senate Ways and Means and full Senate budgets that were analyzed by the Mass Budget and Policy Center in their “Conference Preview: Differences Between the Senate and House Budgets for FY 2017” report. As a result, the numbers used in the Public Health and Economic Development sections of the column were incorrect. And while Pramas did identify an MBPC typographical error in the Transitional Assistance section of their report, the numbers in that section of his column based on that error were also incorrect. For the correct numbers, please check the updated MBPC report at The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism regrets the errors — which do not, we hasten to add, change the fact of the savage cuts to the budget areas in question in any significant way.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.