by Mike Cusher
In 2018, the United States dealt with 14 different billion-dollar weather disasters. The four highest annual occurrences of billion-dollar weather disasters have all been within the past decade, and last year’s events had a total economic impact of $91 billion. This number includes both the direct costs of destruction as well as indirect costs like lost wages during and after the disaster, both of which pale in comparison to the increased health risks and tragic loss of life due to these storms.
Massachusetts was impacted by two of these devastating weather disasters last year during nor’easters that hit in January and in March. With these events, we are seeing the destruction of our 1,500 miles of coastline and major flooding of our inland rivers. The Commonwealth is in desperate need of increased revenue to ensure our most vulnerable communities are ready for more such impacts in the coming years. We know that being proactive in response to these weather events will cost less, and reduce damage, compared with reacting to disasters after they have occurred.
A big part of the solution comes from the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which enhances climate adaptation practices at the local level. The program provides support for communities across Massachusetts to consider their local strengths and vulnerabilities to climate change, and to prioritize actions they can take to create a safer and more resilient future. Mass Audubon is a certified MVP provider, and assists communities with this work.
But in addition to these local planning efforts, Massachusetts also needs more funding for state and local agencies to prioritize resilience. This occurs through actions like retrofitting vulnerable flood controls, transportation infrastructure, and water resources, and by implementing regional climate-smart land and coastal protection frameworks.
Earlier this year, Governor Baker introduced legislation to address this need. An Act providing for climate change adaptation infrastructure investments in the Commonwealth (S.10) would create a new stream of funding to help our communities prepare for the future. The Governor’s proposal would raise $137 million annually, through a real estate tax increase, to go into the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund. This funding would then be reinvested into our cities and towns, both through the MVP program and as other assistance for the state and local communities to protect vulnerable assets.
This legislation is a way to leverage a small increase in the deeds excise tax, paid during real estate transfers, into a major investment in the future of our Commonwealth. S.10 is a promising next step in our ongoing process to deal with the greatest threat our world has ever faced.
Mike Cusher is Mass Audubon’s legislative director