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Mass. life sciences industry opposes scaled-back Senate bill

In its version of the economic development bill, which passed last month, the House also tried to increase tax breaks for life sciences companies by $200 million. Senate leaders defeated They have included that measure in their proposal and instead propose to maintain the tax benefits at their current level.

“This is not a time to think small,” said Brian Johnson, president of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council. “We are at a turning point where we can decide whether we lead this industry for the next generation or whether we let our lead slowly evaporate because we are conservative at the wrong time.”

The Senate is set to take up its version of the bill on Thursday, three days after Democratic leaders in the chamber first released the sprawling 124-page bill.

The changes in the Senate puzzled Ed Coppinger, a longtime state representative and now chief government officer at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.

“Are you different for the sake of being different and later negotiating something that you know everybody wants?” Coppinger mused. Asked if he believed the Senate was trying to create a trading chip with House leaders in future negotiations, Coppinger didn’t pause.

“One hundred percent,” he said. Coppinger said that with the raft of bills lawmakers are still negotiating, he questioned the Senate’s decision to stray so far from something the governor, the House and the industry all support. “Why pick this one?”

Senate leaders defended their bill Wednesday. Gray Milkowski, a spokesman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka, said she is “confident that the investments this legislation makes in all sectors of the economy, including life sciences, are strong.”

Stands Senator Barry Finegold, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, said in an interview that the chamber is “very committed” to the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical sectors.

“As with anything, there are an infinite number of requests and a finite amount of resources,” said the Andover Democrat.

Finegold said it’s still unclear whether funding could be increased in a final version of the bill. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council is pushing for one amendment that, among several changes, would increase the funding proposal to $500 million.

“Everything is on the table,” says Finegold said.

It is certainly true that the economic development legislation is not the only bill lawmakers have introduced. could use as leverage to push through their priorities. There are still a number of proposals being worked out behind closed doors, including a multibillion-dollar housing bond bill, sweeping gun legislation and, of course, the annual budget for the fiscal year that began in July.

Democratic leaders have long emphasized the state’s importance as a hotbed of innovation in the life sciences. Eighteen of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical manufacturers operate in the state, and an initiative launched in 2008 by former Gov. Deval Patrick that allocated $1 billion over 10 years is largely credited with helping to solidify the state’s position as a global industrial hub.

The state then extended the financing for the life sciences sector in 2018 under Patrick’s successor, Charlie Baker, with another $500 million. Healey has also made boosting the industry a focus of her own agenda, calling her administration’s effort “Life Sciences 3.0” and pitching it as a key way to keep the state competitive with others.

Earlier this year in Rome, Healey took the message to an international stage. At a meeting with global business leaders at KPMG offices, she said the world cannot ignore Massachusetts’ role as a hub for life sciences, applied artificial intelligence and climate technology innovations.

While Massachusetts is already considered a leader in attracting life sciences companies and investment, the House of Representatives and the governor are trying to give the state an edge over rivals California, New York and North Carolina.

The Raleigh-Durham region in particular has emerged as a threat to Boston’s dominance, with top universities, available land and lower costs of doing business. Most of the major real estate players in Greater Boston’s life-sciences world have a presence in or are considering a presence in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area, the Globe reported.

However, this competitiveness requires financial support.

Johnson of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council said that without the right funding, Massachusetts could lose its position as a leader in the life sciences and that it could “hardly keep pace” with investments in other states with the funding approved under Baker.

“In 2018, we invested for five years. We saw New York invest billions. We saw New Hampshire get (funding) to build out their life sciences ecosystem,” he said. “They’re right on our border and they’re coming right at our company. They’re not here to partner with us.”

Healey’s office did not answer questions Wednesday about whether the Senate bill sufficiently supports her vision for the industry, but Karissa Hand, a spokesperson for Healey, said in a statement that the governor “knows they share her commitment to strengthening our state’s economy, including the life sciences and climate tech sectors.”


Matt Stout can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @mattpstout. Samantha J. Gross can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her @samanthajgross.

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