HOUSE SPEAKER Salvatore DiMasi calls his $296 million economic stimulus package ''nothing grandiose" but rather a ''specific, direct, practical" plan to address the needs of Massachusetts businesses. This approach should reassure fiscal watchdogs who fear overspending but still want to make smart investments in training, infrastructure, and technology.
The proposal, unveiled last week, stands in contrast to Governor Romney's own stimulus package in one respect: It concentrates on helping businesses already in Massachusetts to grow rather than trying to attract new businesses here. While Romney's proposal offers incentives to businesses that pledge to create 100 new jobs, the House would extend supports to any Massachusetts business, whether a large firm or ''a T-shirt vendor on Cape Cod," as Representative David Torrisi of North Andover put it. By concentrating on small, steady gains, DiMasi's plan is more likely to bear fruit.
But most of the House proposal overlaps with Romney's, including $200 million in infrastructure improvements, such as highway offramps or water and utility hookups. This suggests a truth about economic stimulus, at least in tight fiscal times: There is a limit to what a state government can do for its economy that is both effective and affordable.
Still, there are some innovations. For the first time, the House bill would offer grants up to $3,000 to low-income students, especially part-time students, in high-demand fields. There is no need to guess what those fields might be. This spring the Women's Union identified the top 25 jobs that are both numerous and pay enough to help families become self-sufficient. They include nurses, dental hygienists, computer specialists, electricians, and real estate agents.
Too many existing workforce development programs steer poor women particularly toward low-skill work that will never pay enough. And there are probably too many workforce development programs, period. The House bill folds in other legislation filed this year to establish an accountability task force to untangle the Byzantine map of workforce programs, currently spread across 12 state agencies.
The package also goes a long way to eliminate the shameful waiting lists for adult basic education and English as a second language with an additional $6.5 million appropriation.
There is more in the plan to boost the state's cultural and tourism economy and to ramp up broadband and other new technologies. But the educational initiatives may be the money best spent. For the business or worker seeking the perfect match of skills to job opening, even a modest targeted education or training program can open up the world.