WBJ: New England’s wish list to Congress for economic growth
As originally appearing in Worcester Business Journal

By James T. Brett

As 2019 drew to a close, so too did the first half of the 116th Congress. And as is often the case at year’s end, our leaders in Washington, D.C. ended the year with a flurry of activity. In its final week on Capitol Hill, Congress passed a $1.4-billion spending bill to fund the government through September. Included in that bill were several top priority measures for The New England Council: boosting retirement savings, re-authorizing the terrorism risk insurance program, and renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. As our leaders return to Washington, D.C. in January, the expectation is – like in all presidential election years – it will not be a terribly productive year. However, Congress could take several actions to support continued economic growth in our region.

1. Invest in infrastructure. Nearly 1,600 bridges are in “poor” condition across New England, roughly 9%. Last year, Washington could not reach agreement on an infrastructure package even as such investments are critically needed. This fall, a renewal of the 2015 FAST Act – America’s surface transportation law – must occur. A key Senate Committee last July approved a $287-billion replacement. Perhaps Congress can aim higher and address our region’s additional infrastructure requirements as well.

2. Promote investment in renewable energy. New England has become a leader in the development and deployment of offshore wind energy. Our region is home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm and more are in development, helping reduce our carbon footprint while creating hundreds of jobs. This tremendous growth is due in part to tax credits for the development and production offshore wind, which have unfortunately expired. Several proposals have been introduced to reinstate and extend these credits, with support from members of the New England delegation. Congress needs to extend these important incentives.

3. Ensure banking for the cannabis industry. In New England, marijuana has been legalized for medical and/or recreational use in all six states. However, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, legitimate cannabis enterprises cannot bank at any federally insured financial institution, and are forced to operate as cash businesses, at risk for theft and fraud. Fortunately, last year, the House passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would establish protections for banks to provide financial services to legal cannabis businesses. The Senate should follow suit and pass this bill.

The good news is all three of these items enjoy strong support from the New England Congressional delegation and strong bipartisan support nationally. Action on these items would no doubt result in job creation and economic growth here in New England and will show Congress can indeed act in a bipartisan manner to advance policies benefiting the nation. James T. Brett is president & CEO of The New England Council, an alliance of businesses and nonprofits dedicated to economic growth.

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