Gov. says state will release just half of approved local road funds

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The administration is notifying cities and towns today that it plans to release just half of the $300 million authorized by a bond act for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge program for fiscal 2014.

The one-year Chapter 90 bond act, unanimously approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor a week ago, represents a 50 percent increase for the reimbursement program – from $200 million to $300 million. But the governor’s recent decision will result in a 25 percent cut instead.

The administration is citing multiple transportation priorities and the unresolved issue of available revenue as the reasons for withholding $150 million in road maintenance funding from cities and towns.

Legislative leaders have stated that the transportation finance bill passed by each branch would clearly cover the debt service for a $300 million Chapter 90 program, but it is ultimately up to the governor’s office to determine how much of the authorization to release.

The MMA and local leaders expressed strong disappointment about the administration’s action and called for the immediate release of the full $300 million.

“The funds to support Chapter 90 are clearly there in the Legislature’s tax package,” said MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith. “These are dollars that are due to cities and towns to repair their local roads.”

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, president of the Massachusetts Mayors Association, told the State House News Service, “We’ve gone from what was a proposed increase of 50 percent to a 25 percent reduction. In many ways it’s not comprehensible to us.”

Local officials, the MMA, and the Massachusetts Highway Association point out that the Chapter 90 program benefits every single community in the state, that communities are responsible for maintaining the vast majority of roads in Massachusetts, and that delays or cutbacks in the program serve to drive up costs and ultimately harm the economy.

The House and Senate last month each passed a bill that would raise approximately $500 million in tax increases to fund transportation programs, but the governor says the additional revenue in the bills, currently in a conference committee, is inadequate.

“The administration continues to work with the Legislature on transportation financing,” Transportation Secretary Richard Davey stated in the letter to cities and towns, “but it is clear that we will need to make hard choices about where to devote available resources.”

He said “it may be possible” to release additional Chapter 90 funding later in the fiscal year, “depending on the final disposition” of a transportation finance plan in the Legislature.

The initial $150 million would be released once the Legislature enacts and the governor signs the companion “terms bill” for the bond act.

In the past two years, Chapter 90 funding was not released until August, well beyond the April 1 statutory deadline, causing communities to miss much of the road construction season.

This year, the MMA and local officials have been expressing concerns that Chapter 90 might again be held up by extended State House debates about new revenues and a multi-year transportation package, which is why the association pushed hard for a stand-alone Chapter 90 bill for fiscal 2014.

The MMA and local officials applauded the Legislature’s actions this spring to support an increase in funding and expedite a Chapter 90 bill for fiscal 2014.

A statewide survey conducted by the MMA late last year documents that the state’s cities and towns would need to spend $562 million each year to maintain local roads in a “state of good repair,” the industry standard, but communities spend far less due to inadequate resources. With this in mind, the MMA membership unanimously adopted a resolution at the association’s Annual Meeting in January calling for a $100 million increase in the Chapter 90 program.

Statement of MMA Executive Director calling for release of full $300 million in Chapter 90 funds
Written by MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette