EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 29, 2008

Mass. House approves biotech bill; tax override exemptions for seniors

BOSTON — House lawmakers yesterday approved a 10-year plan to invest $1 billion in the life sciences industry, including $12.6 million for the Interstate 93 interchange in Andover.

The House also passed a bill to effectively exempt some seniors from Proposition 21/2 overrides, a move decried by anti-tax advocates, who hope to kill it in the Senate.

The life sciences bill passed 134 to 13, and the bill affecting senior's property taxes advanced on a 111 to 34 vote, in what amounted to a unusually busy afternoon on Beacon Hill.

Under the life sciences bill, the state would spend $250 million for research grants and offer $250 million for tax credits for life sciences companies over the next 10 years. The state would also issue $500 million in bonds to pay for capital projects. Those include $95 million for a life sciences center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and a $90 million Advanced Therapeutics Center at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester.

Locally, the bill would help pay for construction of the Interstate 93 interchange, considered critical to the planned expansion of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Andover.

The bill is supported by Gov. Deval Patrick, who filed the initial proposal in May.

House Democrats contend the bill is an important investment in a growing industry, creating as many as 250,000 jobs statewide — a figure that has been disputed.

Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, pointed out that life sciences companies employ people across the region.

"I can tell you there'll be many opportunities for people in the North Shore to benefit from this," said. Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem. "This is our sweet spot."

Republicans took to the House floor to question whether the state could afford gambling $1 billion on one industry.

"We don't have a good record picking winners and losers," said Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr., R-North Reading.

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