Sen. Scott Brown: A billion dollar boondoggle

Sen. Scott Brown

I find myself scratching my head because the Commonwealth has stumbled again on a serious issue and in an effort for political expediency weakened the intent behind a feasible economic development bill. The latest instance involves a flawed $1 billion proposal to borrow money in order to rush promotion for the life sciences industry in the Commonwealth.

As a member of the Bio-Tech Caucus, I have always been a strong supporter of this field and its many benefits to humanity and the economy. But I could not support this legislation because its short-sightedness is an affront to the taxpayers of my district who are crying out for local aid relief. I couldn't in good conscience vote for this bill and still return to my towns to tell them I did all I could to return more resources to them.

It is extremely troubling that recent anti-business bills have started to pile up on the shoulders of small companies trying to stay afloat during this hard economic time. In finding new ways to chase businesses out of the state, legislation has run the gamut from bills that ban free pens from being given to doctors with the name of new products, to requiring mandatory treble damages if an employer makes a mistake with payroll, to a $500 million tax increase on companies that do business in two or more states.

Keep in mind that this is all on top of Massachusetts being the fourth most expensive place to run a business in the entire country! Just this week I learned of three companies closing their locations in Massachusetts and laying off 353 workers because of the threat of pending tax legislation.

The original intent of the life sciences bill was to use the funding to grow and attract more companies to Massachusetts. However, special interest groups were able to convince the legislative leadership to fund expensive and questionable pork projects throughout the Commonwealth - a concern shared by the Presidents of Harvard, MIT and UMASS.

The Legislature demonstrated to the public that it was more important to fund pet projects and bolster select companies instead of providing guidance and partnership with the life sciences industry. Tens of millions of dollars in selective earmarks for incubators, sewer improvements and building assistance for capital projects is not a comprehensive economic development strategy.

To be very clear, I am not against the goals of the bill or the value of each project. I am, however, opposed to borrowing $1 billion for such an expensive plan without first examining how each taxpayer dollar is currently being spent, and what wasteful spending we might be able to cut from the current budget. I therefore cannot justify the actions of the Legislature and the Governor on this bill to the cash strapped towns in my district.

Not only are the pork projects and corporate welfare plentiful, but hundreds of millions of dollars are to be doled out by the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, which has raised some grave concerns about politicizing the grant and allocation of tax breaks in a process with little transparency.

When will the State's leaders learn that accountability for contracts is in the best interest of the Commonwealth? Is it fair tax policy to have two identical companies apply for a tax break but only have one chosen because they have an "in" with the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development? Additionally, both supporters and critics have raised serious concerns that the bill simply ignores struggling industries like traditional manufacturing and research and development sectors.

After months of sitting in committee, this bill was hastily moved through the legislative process because of a quickly approaching trip to San Diego for the Bio2008 Convention, where the Governor and his team wanted bragging rights to some type of life sciences legislation. Yet after they are done trumpeting their life science bill, these same companies will find out that Massachusetts is trying to lure them here with selective tax breaks while slowly escalating the already high costs of doing business here.

Sadly, this bait and switch will further the Commonwealth's reputation as unfriendly to business.

I am proud to advocate for the life sciences industry here in Massachusetts, but when the state gets in the way of a fair, comprehensive economic development and taxation policy which ultimately we will regret in the future, I will object. I owe it to taxpayers of my district to see that their money is being spent wisely, and that their concerns are being heard. I will also do my best to prevent businesses from being squeezed out of existence or be the latest example on a growing list of businesses that have simply moved operations to New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Connecticut.

Sen. Brown represents the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex District and serves as a member of the Biotechnology Caucus.