Monday, June 25, 2007

Legislature Looking to Expand Permitting Power?

Boston Globe Business writer Steve Bailey had an ominous column in Friday's paper that I didn't notice until this morning. The piece is about House Speaker Sal DiMasi's hesitation over a bill that would essentially reverse a Supreme Judicial Court decision that found the Department of Environmental Protection does not have the power to exempt companies from state law that requires public access to property near the water. That ruling had, according to Bailey "raised serious questions about the permits and titles for scores of current and planned buildings and projects." While DiMasi's office explains his hesitation by saying he's just running everything by the lawyers, others think that his reticence means he's interested in more legislative control over the permitting process.

The column ends thusly:

DiMasi tells a story about having lunch years ago at Pier 4 with restaurateur Anthony Athanas. Mike Dukakis, then the governor, was pushing hard to move the permitting from the Legislature. DiMasi was fighting a losing battle. His question to Athanas: Wouldn't you rather be negotiating your deal with Tommy McGee (the House speaker) and Billy Bulger (the Senate president) than some faceless bureaucrat?

No doubt Anthony would. And that is exactly the problem.
Indeed. The permitting process in Massachusetts is an insane web of competing regulations that thanks to Governor Deval Patrick is at least going in the right direction. Under his direction, approval time for development projects has gone from two to three years in some cases to just six months. Inserting the legislature into that process could either upset the apple-cart and stretch out the permitting process, or worse, create even more incentives for developers to grease the palms of politicians to get their permits approved faster.

Update: A Thursday Globe Editorial provides more context on this issue.