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This Week in Massachusetts – May 22

Posted on May 23, 2023

Telegram: Kraft Group Opens Two Warehouses in Boylston

Two warehouses with a total footprint of almost 700,000 square feet, both owned by The Kraft Group, opened for business on Shrewsbury Street on Thursday.

The bigger of the warehouses, a 384,000-square-foot center, will be used by Rand-Whitney to manufacture cardboard boxes for retail and protective packaging.

The Kraft Group, which is headed by Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, owns the company.

On Thursday, Kraft attended a gathering in front of the building, speaking to an audience among whom were Gov. Maura Healey, state Sen. Robyn Kennedy and state Rep. Meghan Kilcoyne.

“We’re opening up the most modern plant in America,” said Kraft. “This will be the best and most efficient plant.”

Boston Globe: Massachusetts Again Targeted by Thieves Trying to Steal Unemployment Benefits

Last week, when national figures showed a significant uptick in new claims for unemployment insurance benefits, some analysts took it as a sign that higher interest rates were finally cooling the labor market.

Turns out they were wrong. What drove the number higher was a flood of fraudulent claims filed in one state — Massachusetts. Sure enough, this week new jobless claims dropped sharply in line with longer trends.

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance released a statement blaming “an uptick in fraudulent attempts to access unemployment insurance benefits,” just as “fraudulent attempts are increasing across the country.” Analysts who track weekly unemployment claims singled out Massachusetts, though Kentucky mentions a problem with “imposter” claims on its website.

Such identity theft previously hit Massachusetts and other states at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago.

Mass Live: Economy at a Crawl in First Quarter, but Job Market Remains Bright

The state’s economy slowed in the first three months of 2023, growing its statewide domestic product at just 0.1%.

That’s a tiny growth rate considering the U.S. gross domestic product increased at a 1.1% rate according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“It could be worse, right,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, senior contributing editor and professor emeritus of economics and public policy at Northeastern University. “The economy certainly appears to be slowing in Massachusetts. There is good evidence that it is slowing nationally as well.”

In the fourth quarter of 2022, Massachusetts GDP grew at a 2.9% annualized rate compared to a 2.6% rate for the whole U.S., according to MassBenchmarks, a statewide study of the state’s economy organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. Stubborn inflation and tightening credit seem to be culprits, the report said.

Spending on taxable items in Massachusetts declined at a seasonally adjusted 5.8% annual rate in the first quarter. Some of that might have had to do with volatility and timing of withholding tax receipts. Car and truck sales were strong, the report said, citing state figures. But those gains were offset by declines in the sale of other goods.

Boston Globe: Boston City Employees Get Green Light to Use AI

Artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT have alarmed everyone from scientists at Google to billionaires like Elon Musk. But Boston’s city government seems mainly worried about missing out on the chance to use AI to boost worker performance.

On Thursday, Boston’s chief information officer, Santiago Garces, issued guidelines that encourage city workers to try out these AI systems in a variety of tasks, such as writing e-mails, summarizing lengthy documents, or creating original images, videos, and audio tracks.

“We want to encourage responsible experimentation and we encourage you to try these tools for yourselves to understand their potential,” said a city document explaining the guidelines, which apply to all city departments except the public school system. A spokesman said further research is needed to decide how to manage AI in schools.

Garces said he and his staff began discussing the issue not long after the popular AI system ChatGPT was opened to public use last fall. In its first two months, over 100 million people worldwide used the system, which can create original essays, poems, and even computer code, in response to simple questions from humans. Other systems based on similar technology can create realistic looking photos, drawings, or videos on command, and even compose music.

Mass Live: Bills Seek Gambling Exception for Small-Stakes Games at Senior Centers

Compared to what crosses the tables at MGM Springfield or other state casinos, the bets once placed on pitch games at the Pleasant View Senior Center in East Longmeadow were small potatoes.

It wasn’t unusual to see 50 to 60 adults sitting around, laughing, talking and playing the card game known as pitch, hoping to win a small amount of money.

Then came the crackdown. The legalization of sports wagering raised concerns at senior centers around the state, says Gabe Adams-Keane, director of legislation and communication for state Sen. John Velis.

Today, those games, shorn of wagering, draw scarcely more than a dozen people to the East Longmeadow center. Other centers report similar declines in players.

“You don’t mess with pitch,” Sarah Long, director of the West Springfield Council on Aging, said. “Their heart and soul is in this game.”

Proposed legislation would carve out an exception for small-stakes games at senior centers.

State House News: Sen Gobi Tapped for New Healey Admininstration Post

Veteran Sen. Anne Gobi will leave the Legislature to fill a newly created post in the Healey administration, triggering a special election in the central Massachusetts district she represents.

Gov. Maura Healey announced Monday that she tapped Gobi to become the state’s first director of rural affairs. The Spencer Democrat will serve “as a dedicated advocate and ombudsman cultivating economic development within rural communities,” Healey’s office said.

Gobi will start her new job June 5, according to Healey’s office. Her Senate departure date is unclear.

The Senate this week plans to meet over several days to advance its $55.8 billion fiscal year 2024 state budget.

“We are building an economy that benefits all communities, businesses, and people in Massachusetts, particular [sic] those that are too often overlooked and underrepresented like rural and small towns,” Healey said. “Senator Gobi’s fierce advocacy of rural equity, agricultural and small businesses, and conservation initiatives makes her the ideal candidate to help our rural towns across the state succeed.”

When the Senate agrees to an order setting a special election date, Secretary of State William Galvin will announce a primary date.

The Worcester and Hampshire district she represents, which was redrawn in the latest round of redistricting, stretches across much of the state’s middle, from Gardner in the north to Brookfield in the south and from the westernmost part of Worcester out to Ware.

At least four state representatives live in Gobi’s district: Republican Reps. Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, Donald Berthiaume of Spencer, and Peter Durant of Spencer, and Democrat Rep. Jonathan Zlotnik of Gardner. In Worcester, Gobi’s constituency overlaps with the House districts represented by Democrats Reps. John Mahoney and David LeBoeuf.

Commonwealth Magazine: House Leaders Pushing Majority Rule in Joint Committees

House leaders appear to be pushing majority rule in most of the Legislature’s joint committees, but the effort has had little impact so far except in the badly divided Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee.

The energy committee literally split in two on Thursday – House members heard testimony on bills with no senators present and senators plan to take testimony on Friday with no House members present.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the Senate chair of the committee, said the senators won’t return to meeting with their House counterparts until the House members agree to rules recognizing parity between the two branches.

That means the House and Senate chairs have to agree jointly on which bills will be heard at hearings and which bills will get acted on in executive sessions. Without parity, Barrett said, the Senate will lose leverage and House members will prevail most of the time because House members on the committee outnumber Senate members by almost a 2-1 margin. Wu Gives Update on Plan to Offer Vacant Lots to Builders for Affordable Housing

During her “State of the City” address in January, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced plans to offer 150 vacant lots across the city to developers for free if they agree to use them for affordable housing. She gave an update on that project Sunday.

Wu said during an appearance on WCVB’s “On the Record” that city officials will review bids and make more of the lots available to bidders in batches.

“Housing is the top challenge across every part of our city, I would say even across our commonwealth,” Wu told WCVB. “People are getting priced out and we have to do everything possible right now. So, we’re trying to create more housing, we’re trying to stabilize people in their homes, we’re trying to boost home ownership and help people who are renting become homeowners with supports, and we’re looking at every inch of city land.”

Wu went on to say that the city is not building enough new housing at the moment. Her administration is working to both elicit proposals from local builders and to speed up the processes behind development.

MassLive: Neal: East-West Rail ‘Is Going to Happen’ in Push for Regional Equity

SPRINGFIELD — Things have been quiet lately with east-west rail, the Pioneer Valley’s decades-long quest for better and more frequent passenger train service to Boston.

But that’s changing, says a leading proponent, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield.

For one, Gov. Maura T. Healey, who publicly pledged her support last fall during a campaign stop with Neal at Springfield Union Station, is expected to be in Western Massachusetts next week to mark Memorial Day.

“She says this is going to happen, the governor,” Neal said Friday in a meeting with reporters and editors at The Republican. “She is the decider on that, because the state decides what to do with federal money on the transportation side.”

Also, last week, Healey announced she would double the state’s pledge of funding to replace the 90-year-old Bourne and Sagamore bridges on Cape Cod from $350 million to $700 million, matching a $350 million pledge the Biden administration made in March.

“Those of you who have dealt with me for a long time know that triggers something in me,” Neal said in the hourlong conversation. “I read that and say, ‘Where’s ours?’”

Massachusetts is set to receive $9 billion in federal infrastructure money.

Neal, dean of the state’s congressional delegation, said he’s made it clear to the state’s other eight representatives in the House that all of that money will not go to the Boston-area MBTA. Neal said he’s also making a priority of continued manufacturing of rail cars at the CRRC plant on Page Boulevard in Springfield, where 280 people work but where there have been quality and production issues.

New York Times: Biden and McCarthy Resume Negotiations on Debt Limit

President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed on Sunday to meet on Monday afternoon to try to jump-start talks aimed at averting a default on the nation’s debt, capping a tumultuous stretch of negotiations that faltered over the weekend as the two sides clashed over Republicans’ demands to cut spending in exchange for raising the debt limit.

Mr. McCarthy announced the meeting — his third with Mr. Biden this month, scheduled for after the president’s return from the Group of 7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan — after he concluded a call with the president on Sunday sounding more sanguine than before about the prospects for a deal.

The speaker said House G.O.P. and White House negotiators would continue talks at the Capitol on Sunday to lay the groundwork. White House negotiators left the Capitol on Sunday night after a two-and-a-half-hour bargaining session with their Republican counterparts but said they intended to keep working before Monday’s session.

Mr. Biden “walked through some of the things that he’s still looking at, he’s hearing from his members; I walked through things I’m looking at,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I felt that part was productive. But look — there’s no agreement. We’re still apart.”

 New York Times: Minnesota Passes Bill Seeking to Ensure Minimum Wage for Gig Workers

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill on Sunday that would guarantee drivers for Uber and Lyft a minimum wage and other benefits, sending the measure to Gov. Tim Walz.

The narrow passage, a 35-32 vote after an earlier 69-to-61 approval from the state’s House of Representatives, capped a dramatic week of political maneuvering so the bill would clear the legislature before the session ended on Monday. Drivers for Uber and Lyft are known as gig workers because they are treated as independent contractors, meaning they are responsible for their own expenses and are not guaranteed a minimum wage, health care or other benefits.

If the legislation is signed by the governor, it will require Uber and Lyft to pay their drivers at least $1.45 per mile they drive a passenger — or $1.34 per mile outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul region — as well as $0.34 per minute. It also establishes an appeals process through which drivers can request a review if they feel they have been improperly deactivated from the platforms, and requires additional transparency around how drivers’ earnings are calculated.

Health Care

Axios: Medical AI’s weaponization

Machine learning can bring us cancer diagnoses with greater speed and precision than any individual doctor — but it could also bring us another pandemic at the hands of a relatively low-skilled programmer.

The health field is generating some of the most exciting artificial intelligence innovation, but AI can also weaponize modern medicine against the same people it sets out to cure.

The World Health Organization is warning about the risks of bias, misinformation and privacy breaches in the deployment of large language models in healthcare.

WHO officials worry that datasets that do not fully reflect the population can generate misleading or inaccurate information.

There is a 1 in 300 chance of an individual being harmed throughout the patient journey, most often through data error, per WHO research.

As this technology races ahead, everyone — companies, government and consumers — has to be clear-eyed that it can both save lives and cost lives.

AI in health is delivering speed, accuracy and cost dividends — from quicker vaccines to helping doctors outsmart killer heart conditions.

Next, it’s set to help beat the trickiest cancers and boost rates of IVF success.

But disaster is sometimes only one click or security breach away.

Escaped viruses are a top worry. Around 350 companies in 40 countries are working in synthetic biology.

With more artificial organisms being created, there are more chances for accidental release of antibiotic resistant superbugs, and possibly another global pandemic.

The UN estimates superbugs could cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050, outranking cancer as a killer.

Through tolerance to high temperatures, salt, and alkaline conditions, escaped artificial organisms could overrun existing species or disturb ecosystems.

AI models capable of generating new organisms “should not be exposed to the general public. That’s really important from a national security perspective,” Sean McClain, founder and CEO of Absci, which is working to develop synthetic antibodies, told Axios. McClain isn’t opposed to regulator oversight of his models.

Lever News: Medicare For All Sees Record Support

Progressives introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2023 on Wednesday with more than 100 co-sponsors, a record level of support.

Public healthcare is popular: 68 percent of Americans support a public option, and 55 percent support Medicare for All. But supporters of basic health-care access have been unsuccessfully introducing some version of a Medicare for All bill since 1970.

The legislation builds on existing Medicare programs to ensure universal health coverage for all U.S. residents, including for reproductive, mental health, and long-term care. The bill would also ensure substance abuse treatment and support for people with disabilities. What’s more, it would reduce prescription drug costs and get rid of copays, private insurance premiums, and deductibles.

Despite being the richest country in the world and spending more on health care than any other high-income country, the U.S. has the worst health outcomes among its peers, with a broken healthcare system to blame. A 2022 study found that 1 in 10 U.S. adults have significant medical debt, and one in 2019 found that over 500,000 medical bankruptcies are filed annually.

Budget and Taxation

Newburyport News: Senators Load up Budget with Local Earmarks

Money for school buildings, food pantries, nonprofits and drug counseling programs are among the many requests from lawmakers angling to bring home a piece of the nearly $56 billion Senate budget.

Lawmakers from the North Shore and Merrimack Valley have filed dozens of requests to buoy cash-strapped municipal governments, local projects and programs ahead of debate on the spending package next week.

That includes nearly two dozen proposed amendments from Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, including an additional $50,000 for the Salem Pantry for its food insecurity programs and $60,000 for the Northeast Arc in Peabody, which works with disabled people and their families.

Boston Herald: Healey Chips Away at Housing Crisis with $250 Million

Gov. Maura Healey added a drop into the state’s nearly empty affordable-home bucket Thursday during a trip to Lowell where she announced about $250 million in direct subsidies, and state and federal housing tax credits aimed at addressing the statewide shortage of homes.

Healey’s announcement of 27 project awards spread across 20 separate Massachusetts cities and towns comes as the state stares down a veritable housing catastrophe, with some estimates saying the commonwealth needs more than 100,000 new units built just to meet current demand.

The awards, which Healey’s staff say will create 1,600 new units, demonstrate her administration’s commitment to tackling the housing issue head on, according to the governor.

“These are the types of projects that our Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities will be driving in close collaboration with local, federal and private sector partners to address our housing crisis,” the governor said.

Newly appointed Secretary of Housing Ed Augustus, formerly the Worcester City Manager, on June 1 will take on the job aimed specifically at solving the affordable housing problem. The Housing Secretary position was created by Healey as a new executive position after she made housing apriority on the campaign trail.

Salem News: Report: Massachusetts Outward Migration Increases Five-Fold

The outward migration of taxpayers and income leaving Massachusetts has nearly quadrupled over the past decade, with the state’s top earners leading the exodus, according to a new report.

The Pioneer Institute’s “Tax Reality Sets In” report, which is based on newly released U.S. Census data, found that between 2019 and 2021, Massachusetts rose to the fourth highest among states with the largest net outmigration of wealth, following behind California, New York and Illinois.

Meanwhile, the state’s net loss of adjusted gross income to other states grew from $900 million in 2012 to $4.3 billion in 2021, according to the report.

Jim Stergios, Pioneer’s executive director and co-author of the report, pointed out that the largest spike in departures occurred in 2020 and 2021, as COVID-19 pandemic-related remote were in effect and other states were cutting taxes to reduce the impact.

“Massachusetts’ inattention to tax and competitiveness policies is leading to a tsunami of departures,” Stergios said.

The report argues that Massachusetts policymakers have “ignored the new tax realities and the rise of remote work” citing the voter approval of the millionaires tax in 2022 and legislative leaders decision last year not to move ahead with a proposal to overhaul the estate tax, which affect higher-earning households.


Berkshire Eagle: Warren Pledges to ‘Prioritize’ Health of Lee Residents in PCB Landfill Struggle

U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren’s staff said she is committed to working with the Town of Lee to find the best way to clean up soil contaminated with PCBs along the Housatonic River, and to address community concerns.

The meeting this week will be ahead of a federal court hearing in Boston set for June 6 to hear challenges from the Housatonic River Initiative and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team to the GE work permit issued by the EPA for the PCB cleanup, including the planned landfill in Lee for low-level PCB material.

The landfill will be directly across a small road from Woods Pond, where 285,000 cubic yards of sediment is designated for removal. Overall, about 2 million cubic yards of materials may be stored there.

The EPA responded to an April 19 letter from Warren, which was sent after a meeting between the senator’s staff and Lee town officials, who oppose siting the landfill in Lee. In it, Warren posed a series of questions about a settlement GE and EPA came to in 2020 following dumping of PCBs in the Housatonic River.

David W. Cash, the Region 1 administrator for EPA in New England, responded with his own letter. Following up, Warren’s office set up the upcoming meeting with town staff.

Warren’s letter to the EPA related a number of questions and concerns raised by town officials.

Boston 25 News: Public-Health Warning Issued Related to Sewage Discharge in Boston

Boston public health officials are advising residents to avoid affected water bodies in parts of the city for 48 hours due to increased health risks from bacteria and other pollutants after a recent sewage discharge.

The public health warning was issued Sunday morning regarding untreated overflows at Porter Street in East Boston, in the Fort Point Channel at Albany Street, and in the Upper Inner Harbor, upstream of the North Washington Street Bridge.

The latest untreated overflow in these areas ended at 3:25 a.m. Sunday, however the public is advised to avoid affected water bodies for 48 hours, officials said in a statement Sunday.

“This event may potentially affect waters in Boston Inner Harbor,” the public health warning stated.

The public is advised to avoid contact with affected water bodies for at least 48 hours after a sewage discharge or overflow, during rainstorms, and for 48 hours after rainstorms end, due to increased health risks from bacteria or other pollutants associated with urban stormwater runoff and discharges of untreated or partially treated wastewater.

State regulations require local public health departments to provide notice to the public when these discharges may create a risk to public health, including when a discharge lasts for more than two hours.

A combined sewer overflow occurs when a large storm overwhelms the combined sewerage system causing rainwater to mix with wastewater and discharge to a nearby water body. This prevents sewage backups into homes and businesses.

WBUR: Boston Environment Chief’s New Role: From Youth Organizing to Planting Trees

Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Boston’s chief of environment, energy, and open space,  talks about her priorities for the city, and how she’s bringing her background as a pastor to battling climate change.

One of those priorities is increasing Boston’s tree canopy. Earlier this month, the city announced a program to plant and maintain more trees on private land. If private land owners or organizations are interested in participating, the city is asking them to email

WBUR: How Massachusetts Can Get Everyone to the Beach This Summer

A panel created by Massachusetts lawmakers to study the Boston area’s 15 public beaches says more must be done to make the state-managed areas more welcoming to people of color, as well as non-English speakers and people with disabilities.

“We’re dooming them to be spectators and not participants on our beaches,” Bruce Berman, a consultant for the Metropolitan Beaches Commission, told WBUR’s Stevee Chapman. The commission released a new report with recommendations to fix the issue.

The big issue: The report’s top finding is that the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation is under-resourced, and state lawmakers haven’t implemented previous suggestions to provide more funds. As of 2021, the Bay State’s per-capita spending on parks and recreation was the lowest in the country — just 58% of the national average.

Parking can be hard to find at local beaches in the summer, and many residents don’t have cars. The report suggests creating a guide to using the MBTA to get to the beach, plus more funding from the state for free shuttles like the Hull-O Trolley.

The report recommends more multicultural events and water safety programs, plus multi-lingual beach rule signs. Berman said the DCR needs to fix ramps, install mobility mats and make beach wheelchairs available to those with disabilities.

DCR officials say they’ve worked in recent years to install beach safety signs that can be translated into seven languages with a QR code and spent $200,000 on beach wheelchairs and mobility mats. Brian Arrigo, the state’s new DCR commissioner, said in a statement that he “worked hard” to improve access to Revere Beach as the city’s mayor and looks forward to expanding those efforts across the state.

Boston Herald: Boston COVID Wastewater Drops; State Cases Down 21 Percent

COVID wastewater data in Boston continues to plunge, as state health officials on Thursday also reported a drop in virus cases.

Data from the Boston Public Health Commission’s wastewater surveillance program shows that the number of COVID particles in the city’s wastewater decreased 22% over the past week. The wastewater data helps predict virus waves and lulls in the community.

Meanwhile, the average number of new COVID cases in the city has gone down 25% during the last week.

On Thursday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 774 virus cases over the last week. The daily average of 111 COVID cases from the last week was a 21% drop from the daily rate of 140 virus infections during the previous week.

The Bay State’s positive test average increased last week. The seven-day positive test rate is now 2.95%, up from 2.59% last week.

Boston Globe: The US Needs Minerals for Electric Cars. Everyone Else Wants Them, Too.

For decades, a group of the world’s biggest oil producers has held huge sway over the American economy and the popularity of US presidents through its control of the global oil supply, with decisions by OPEC determining what US consumers pay at the pump.

As the world shifts to cleaner sources of energy, control over the materials needed to power that transition is still up for grabs.

China dominates global processing of the critical minerals that are now in high demand to make batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. In an attempt to gain more power over that supply chain, US officials have begun negotiating a series of agreements with other countries to expand America’s access to important minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite.

But it remains unclear which of these partnerships will succeed, or if they will be able to generate anything close to the supply of minerals the United States is projected to need for a wide array of products, including electric cars and batteries for storing solar power.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Boston Globe: New Hope for Bill to Ban Size Discrimination in Massachusetts

During a routine appointment, Linda Ayrapetov peeked at her physician’s notes and saw that in the exercise category, the doctor had written “sedentary.”

“She never asked me what my exercise level was. She looked at me and decided I don’t work out,” the Jamaica Plain resident, 30, recalled. “I actually over-exercised at the time … but that was not something she would have ever asked, because I look the way that I look.”

Constance Smith, a plus-size model, has had awkward interactions with co-workers at photo shoots.

“People talk to you like, ‘Oh, you model? Oh, I thought you were, like, the help. I thought you were makeup or nails,’ ” said the 30-year-old Mattapan resident. “It’s like, ‘No. You see my picture on the board. I’m here to model.’ ”

When Rachel Estapa was 15, the Catholic school she attended took her class on an Ipswich River canoe trip, but when she went to get a boat, a worker was reluctant to let her have it.

“Just the comment that, ‘Oh no, you’re going to sink or tip the canoe,’ — I didn’t go on a canoe until like last year,” said Estapa, 38, of Somerville.

Massachusetts residents like those three women could demand better treatment in medical settings, the workplace, and recreational areas under a bill before the state Legislature that would ban discrimination based on weight or height — a proposal that may have fresh momentum after a similar measure passed the New York City Council this month.

EXTERNAL: Associated Press: Civil Rights Groups Warn Tourists about Florida

The NAACP over the weekend issued a travel advisory for Florida, joining two other civil rights groups in warning potential tourists that recent laws and policies championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”

The NAACP, long an advocate for Black Americans, joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Latino civil rights organization, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the Sunshine State, where tourism is one of the state’s largest job sectors.

The warning approved Saturday by the NAACP’s board of directors tells tourists that, before traveling to Florida, they should understand the state of Florida “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

An email was sent Sunday morning to DeSantis’ office seeking comment. The Republican governor is expected to announce a run for the GOP presidential nomination this week.

Florida is one of the most popular states in the U.S. for tourists, and tourism is one of its biggest industries. More than 137.5 million tourists visited Florida last year, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. Tourism supports 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, and visitors spent $98.8 billion in Florida in 2019, the last year figures are available.


Eagle Trbune: Lawmakers Seek More Funds for School Building

State lawmakers are pushing for more funding and changes in policy to help local governments afford the rising cost of building new schools and renovating existing buildings.

A nearly $56 billion budget expected to be taken up by the Senate next week includes hundreds of millions in new funding to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which reimburses cities and towns for a portion of the costs for new construction and school building renovation.

But lawmakers say more money is needed as persistent inflation continues to push up construction costs and eat away at existing state and local funding for the projects.

State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, has filed several amendments to the budget related to school construction, including a request for an additional $100 million dollars for the building authority. He said there are a number of schools in his district in “desperate” need of renovation, but the problem is statewide.

“The cost of these projects is going through the roof,” he said. “We need to do everything we can to help schools with these high costs.”

Finegold said the authority recently increased the reimbursement rate to a maximum of $390 per square foot, but the average cost of construction has risen to about $600 per foot.

“So in theory, if a community is getting a 60 percent reimbursement rate from the state, it’s really actually about 20 percent less than that,” he said. “These buildings are very expensive, and the added costs are falling on these communities.”