Chamber News

Needham / Newton
January 13, 2021 Likes Comments

Standing up for west of Boston pike users

Those of us who live and work in the western burbs won't be subject to higher Mass Pike tolls to pay for that massive I-90 project in Allston if a provision in the $16.5 billion Transportation Bond Bill is approved by the governor.

Senate President Karen Spilka inserted an amendment into the bond bill that would prevent any toll hike to pay for the $1 billion megaproject, reports Jeff Malachowski at the MetroWest Daily News.
 
In addition to straightening a section of the pike, the project would create a new stop on the Framingham-Worcester commuter rail line, add pedestrian and bike paths and allow for the creation of a new neighborhood by Harvard University.
 
Spilka says the viaduct needs to be fixed -- just not on our backs.
 
“The MetroWest commuter should absolutely not be financing this project, which is essentially a land development,” the Ashland resident said. "It’s absolutely not fair to use the tolls as an ATM to pay for things that don’t benefit MetroWest, Central Mass and Western Mass commuters."
 
Plans initially called for reduced service on the Framingham-Worcester commuter line during construction.
 
But the proposed bond bill also calls for $250 million for preconstruction, planning and early capital work on the project requiring two tracks be maintained with no reduction in service and the new commuter rail station to be operational within a year after construction commences, Malachowski writes.
 
“We need to make the commuter rail something people want to take,” Spilka said.
 
Boston Fed chief bullish on Q3 and 4*
 
Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, predicted the economy and jobs are in for a "robust recovery" in the second half of the year.
 
But then he added a VERY BIG asterisk.
 
Delays in getting vaccines in arms, he warned, will delay economic recovery.
 
"We can all see it, the light at the end of the tunnel when we will all be vaccinated and get back to a more normalized life," he said at a Boston Chamber event. (Video here, excerpts here.)
 
Rosengren noted that the next two quarters are likely to remain "quite challenging," while expressing alarm about the slow vaccine roll out as well as concerns about economic inequality.
 
"Once the people are able to once again spend more freely, get out of their homes and enjoy some of the things that they've missed over the last nine months, we do expect that the savings rate will continue to go down and we will see a more robust pattern of consumption, particularly of some of those services that many people have not been able to take advantage of for the public health concerns."
 
Newton still under 40B cap
 
The City of Newton still does not meet the “safe harbor” threshold that would exempt the city from the state’s 40B affordable housing law. But it’s inching closer, the Fuller administration announced last week.
 
Municipalities can qualify for a “safe harbor” from Chapter 40B by meeting affordable housing thresholds in one of two ways: Either 10 percent of your total housing units qualify as “affordable” or at least 1.5 percent of developable land area contains “affordable” homes. If a community meets either of safe harbor, it can enforce local zoning requirements for affordable housing projects proposed under 40B guidelines.
 
Newton’s total housing unit calculation is now at 9.59%, up from the 8.3% last year, but still below the 10% threshold. The land area percentage of affordable housing is 1.33%, a slight increase over last year’s calculation of 1.27%, but still below the 1.5% threshold.
 
Today’s (eye roll) PPP story…
 
Banks and other PPP lenders are still “in the dark” about when the SBA will open its application portal for all applicants.
 
But it could be soon, writes Andy Medici for the BBJ.
 
The SBA could end up opening the portal to all lenders as early as Friday or Monday -- with only a little advance notice -- said Paul Merski with the Independent Community Bankers of America.
 
“There will be a heads up that it’s opening up — maybe 24 or 36 hours,” Merski said.
 
Don’t miss this while you're waiting for PPP
 
I devote a lot of space here to PPP updates. And PPP links typically get more clicks than anything else I write about.
 
But don’t forget Friday’s deadline for those state sector specific grants.
 
“We know that some operators may have ‘application fatigue,’ while others may feel that they do not meet demographic requirements or others may feel that they may be precluded because of federal loan programs,” the Mass Restaurant Association advised its members yesterday.
 
”If you have cited any of these reasons for not applying, we encourage you to reconsider and get that application in.”
 
Go here to see if your industry is one of the priority categories for these grants. And go here to register for a MRA webinar tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:30 a.m. to answer last minute questions about your application.
 
Today’s need to knows
 
  • The state Department of Unemployment Assistance is currently implementing unemployment-related provisions from the most recent federal stimulus. Key details on these programs can be found here to assist claimants with questions about their continuation of benefits.
  • Cataldo is looking to hire healthcare professionals and support staff to support a large scale vaccination effort in Boston. Find out more about rates and eligibility here.
  • Looking for information about vaccines? The Mass. Department of Public Health COVID-19 website, includes information about when you, employees or family members will be eligible for a vaccine. Email questions to COVID-19-Vaccine-Plan-MA@mass.gov. (This Globe story provides a helpful vaccine update too.)
Meal delivery companies urge Baker to veto cap
 
Restaurateurs are crossing their fingers that Gov. Baker will sign the bill that would cap delivery on meal delivery apps such as GrubHub and DoorDash.
 
Current delivery fees of 30 percent or more can decimate a restaurant's profit margin. The new bill would cap fees at 15 percent for restaurants with fewer than 25 Massachusetts locations. (The chamber pushed for a local cap back in April but state regulations prohibited it.)
 
But the delivery companies are urging Baker to veto to the measure, telling CommonWealth’s Shira Schoenberg caps are “counterproductive at a time when restaurants need more support, visibility and order volume than ever."
 
Didn't see this one coming
 
Twelve years ago this month the Newton-Needham Chamber’s board of directors voted to sever ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
 
The decision came after the national organization had hammered the TV market with a series of negative ads that helped Scott Brown win a surprise victory over Martha Coakley for the U.S. Senate seat long occupied by Sen. Ted Kennedy.
 
I wasn’t your chamber president yet. But I was on the board (in my role as VP of Content at GateHouse Media New England). And I’m sure the ads were mild compared to what we’d see these days.
 
But our board (and the many members we heard from) were uncomfortable aligning with a national organization that had asserted itself so forcefully -- and we felt, unfairly, given the negative tone of the ads -- in an election that we had not taken a position on.

I thought of that yesterday when the U.S. Chamber did something that would have seemed unthinkable one week ago: It announced plans to halt political contributions to certain lawmakers following the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol last week.
 
“There are some members that by their actions will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Period, full stop,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber, whose political action committee is typically a reliable resource for Republicans.
 
For the record, the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber does not endorse or contribute to political candidates.
 
Be safe out there! Be back tomorrow, same bat time, same bat channel.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.
Dine out. Take out. Shop locally. Mask up. And tip generously.

 

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