BBJ: Federal omnibus spending bill includes big wins for New England
As originally appearing in The Boston Business Journal

By James T. Brett  – President and CEO, The New England Council
Two weeks ago, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law a $1.3 trillion federal spending bill for fiscal 2018. The bill, which funds the federal government through September 30, 2018, includes some big wins for the New England region, particularly in the areas of health care and scientific research.

New England is home to leading research hospitals and universities, which are developing treatments for numerous devastating diseases. Much of this critical work is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and so it is welcome news that the omnibus bill passed last week includes a $3 billion increase in NIH funding, bringing the total funding for this agency to $37 billion. This increase will have a significant impact in New England. In fiscal 2017, New England received a total of more than $3.6 billion in NIH funding, which supported nearly 45,000 jobs and drove nearly $8.5 billion in economic activity, including nearly 33,000 jobs and over $6.3 billion in economic activity in Massachusetts alone. And so an increase in NIH funding will surely benefit our region, while also helping our medical institutions continue their important work.

The spending bill also includes a $300 million increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds a wide range of scientific research, much of which is conducted at colleges and universities. Many colleges and universities throughout New England are recipients of such funding, and are conducting cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields. In FY 2017, institutions in New England received a total of over $650 million in NSF funding, including nearly $460 million in Massachusetts alone. The increase in NSF funding passed last week—which brings the agency’s total funding to $7.8 billion—will no doubt result in increased funding for research underway on campuses throughout New England.

A third important area addressed by the spending bill is the opioid addiction crisis which has had a significant impact in New England. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were nearly 4500 drug overdose deaths in the region in 2016, including 2227 here in Massachusetts. Fortunately, the spending bill includes some $4 billion for various efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including finding for NIH addiction research, grants to bolster state efforts and support law enforcement, and support for rural communities. This additional funding will no doubt help support the various efforts underway in our region to combat this public health epidemic.

Of course there are a variety of other elements of this bill that will benefit New England — including an increase in defense spending, boosts for apprenticeship programs and career and technical education, and funding to upgrade Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, just to name a few. But the three provisions outlined above will certainly have a significant impact on the economy and quality of life in our region.

It is important to note that this deal was just that: a deal, the product of bipartisan compromise. There are a variety of other important issues before Congress in the near future, including gun control, immigration reform, and infrastructure investment, just to name a few. We are hopeful that this example of bipartisanship is a sign of things to come. Our region and our nation deserve it.

James T. Brett is president and CEO of The New England Council.

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