Gov. signs Ch. 90 ‘terms’ bill; road work to begin

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Late yesterday afternoon, the governor signed the “terms” bill that is necessary for the release of Chapter 90 funds, meaning that cities and towns may now execute contracts for road and bridge projects that rely on the reimbursement program.
 
Still at issue, however, is how much of the funding communities will actually see. While cities and towns had been looking forward to receiving the $300 million that was unanimously endorsed by the Legislature, the governor has said the state will release only half of the funding, citing multiple transportation priorities and the unresolved issue of additional revenue. So rather than seeing a 50 percent increase in the program over last year, municipalities will see a 25 percent decrease – at least for now.
 
The administration has indicated that it may release additional Chapter 90 funding later in the year, but said that decision will depend on the final outcome of a transportation revenue package that is currently being negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee.
 
Both the House and Senate unanimously passed a $300 million Chapter 90 bond bill for fiscal 2014, but the decision about how much of the funding to release is ultimately the domain of the governor’s office. Legislative leaders have said, however, that transportation finance bills passed by each branch would cover the $100 million increase in the program, and the MMA and other stakeholders continue to urge the administration to release the full $300 million.
 
The MMA pressed its case again this afternoon at a meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission in the governor’s office.
 
“Instead of a 50 percent increase, we got a 25 percent U-turn,” said Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan, president of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association. “We’re frustrated. … We’re hopeful that this is an incremental step, and in the next week or two we’re going to see the release of the full funding.”

North Adams Councillor Lisa Hall Blackmer pointed out the the Chapter 90 program is widely supported because it creates jobs and produces tangible, visible results for taxpayers.

Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke pointed out that Chapter 90 “is an economic development tool,” adding that “incremental” release of the funding would delay many projects, thereby driving up costs for cities and towns.
 
In response, Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor said the administration is taking “the prudent and responsible course of action” by waiting until there’s a resolution on revenue.
 
“Depending on the final disposition of the transportation finance plan, it may be possible to release additional Chapter 90 funding at some point in fiscal 2014, for either the fall or spring [2014] construction seasons,” he said. “We will need to see what the transportation finance conference report looks like, to make those types of decisions.”

Earlier this year, the governor had proposed raising an additional $1.9 billion in revenue for transportation and education programs. Each branch of the Legislature passed a revenue package of roughly $500 million for transportation programs, however, which the governor said would be insufficient to finance the state’s overall transportation needs.
 
For now, however, communities can finally begin to put Chapter 90 funds to work repairing roads, bridges and sidewalks.
 
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.
 
The MMA and local officials have been expressing concerns since early this year that Chapter 90 might again be held up by lengthy 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 bond bill for fiscal 2014. Local officials from across the state applauded the Legislature’s actions this spring to support an increase in funding and to 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 50 percent increase ($100 million) 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