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State To Float $1Billion-Plus Information Technology Bond

by Bob Katzen, BHR
With Groton Rep. Sheila Harrington voting in the affirmative, The Massachusetts House voted 149 to7, to approve and sent to the Senate a $1 billion- plus information technology bond. The original version of the package was filed by Gov. Charlie Baker more than a year ago on April 11, 2019.
     “This legislation provides authorizations for critical public safety and information technology projects at the state and municipal level,” said Baker in the message he sent along with the original bill. “The projects in the bill will improve the quality, consistency, efficiency and delivery of state services to the residents of Massachusetts, including digital services for healthcare, housing, education, employment assistance, public safety and emergency management, transportation, and energy and the environment.”
     Hundreds of provisions in the bill include massive state projects including $165 million for state telecommunications and data-security-related equipment; $140 million for the purchase and implementation of information technology, telecommunications and data- security-related items for various state agencies; $1.25 million for information technology upgrades for the House of Representatives; and $100 million for the vague “infrastructure related to governmental performance and efficiency.”
     “Over the last several months, thousands of public employees have been working from home,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz. “While this has certainly helped us flatten the curve, it has also put tremendous pressure on our information technology infrastructure like the commonwealth has never seen before. We can all share stories from the past couple of months of the difficulties of conducting business in this new environment. These funds will help ensure that employees can continue to work remotely as needed while still providing vital services to our constituents.”
     “The House’s redraft of Gov. Baker’s ... bond bill (proposed over a year ago) increased state borrowing by almost half a billion more than his initial request, to fund lots of add-ons,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “In this period of crisis—both societal and financial, both personal and governmental, with record high unemployment and historic low revenue collections both anticipated and experienced— this is the wrong time to borrow any more than unavoidable for absolutely essential spending. For once, fiscal austerity needs and ought to be considered in the Legislature.”
     One legislator had mixed feelings. “[The bill] contains critical funding for cyber-security and public safety initiatives at all levels of government,” said Rep. Brad Hill (R-Ipswich). “However, I had strong concerns about the levels of additional borrowing proposed in the consolidated amendment and felt that many of the earmarks were not needed. The state is facing a projected revenue shortfall of $6 billion to $8 billion in next year’s budget, which requires us to engage in a careful balancing act of protecting the state’s bond rating from being downgraded while making sure we can still deliver essential programs and services to the residents of the commonwealth.”
     “The worst depression in a generation didn’t stop the Massachusetts General Court from borrowing over a billion dollars today,” said Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. “Despite over one million workers on unemployment and countless shuttered small businesses, they found a way to make sure their pet projects were purchased in an election year.”
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