Senate Approves Local Ban on Fossil Fuels
The State Senate recently passed new climate change legislation that enhances a similar law that was passed earlier this year. Under this new proposal, the Department of Energy Resources would be authorized to select 10 communities to participate in pilot programs to ban the use of fossil fuels to heat new construction projects. This proposed change occurred after the Baker administration refused to include a similar option in their proposed new Stretch and Opt-In energy codes. Environmental activists have been unable to convince the administration to change their position on this issue and therefore turned to the Senate where they found a more sympathetic audience. The Senate’s bill must now be reconciled with a separate energy bill passed by the House that does not include this code expansion. A conference committee of the two branches has been convened and they expect to vote on a final compromise draft before the end of July.
Governor Seeks to Expand Starter Home Districts
Governor Charlie Baker has filed economic development legislation that includes language to enable cities and towns to expand the areas where Starter Home overlay districts can be designated. The law currently requires those districts to be placed within Smart Growth districts that are near transportation access points. However, many of the Smart Growth districts are already highly developed and congested areas that are not conducive to the high-density single family Starter Home zoning requirements. The Governor’s proposal would remove the current siting limitations and allow communities to designate the Starter Home district anywhere with the community. The Starter Home districts limit the size of single-family units to 1,850 square feet of livable space and require at least 4 units per acre of land. Fifty percent of the units must have 3 or more bedrooms. Unfortunately, the financial incentives provided to the communities by the state to adopt these districts is not deemed sufficient enough to cover the cost of the municipal and education costs that will result from the population growth.
Affordable Housing Surcharges Gains Support
Seven cities and towns have filed home rule petitions with the Legislature to allow them to assess an additional real estate transfer fee to fund the development of affordable housing units. The House has given initial approval to those bills which include different transfer fee percentages and property value thresholds. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means is also considering an omnibus bill that would allow any community to impose an affordable housing surcharge on real property at a rate not to exceed 2 percent of the real estate tax levy against the property. A two-thirds majority support of a local ballot question to impose this assessment would be required at a local municipal election. The proposals pending in the House would not require a ballot question for the rates to be increased.
Legislature Pledges to Address Tax Relief
House and Senate leaders have promised to introduce tax relief legislation before the end of the current legislative session after rejecting attempts by Republican legislators to add Governor Baker’s tax relief proposals to the House and Senate versions of the state budget. The Governor’s plan provides for tax breaks for low-income residents and also includes a reduction in the capital gains tax and an increase in the threshold for the estate tax. It is almost certain that the two branches will support tax relief for lower income residents, but the probability is low that the heavily Democratic Legislature will support relief that is viewed as benefiting high earning individuals