Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
His Excellency Charles D. Baker
Governor of the Commonwealth
State House, Boston
Dear Governor Baker,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the MMA is writing to respectfully request that you file a Chapter 90 bond bill as a companion measure with your fiscal 2022 state budget recommendation later this month. We are seeking a multi-year funding bill that includes at least $300 million annually, indexed to grow with inflation.
We believe it is critical that a Chapter 90 bill be filed at the earliest possible date, and that the Legislature move to enact the authorization as quickly as possible, well before the customary deadline of April 1. Because cities and towns cannot award contracts based on Chapter 90 reimbursements until official notifications are received, late passage of the Chapter 90 bond bill in recent years has forced communities to bid, award and start work on projects in a significantly shortened timeline and construction season, driving up the cost of projects due to more expensive bid responses, and reducing the scope of work accomplished. We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the delay of many matters, including passage of the 2021 Chapter 90 authorization, which was not signed until July 2020. We respectfully urge timely finalization of the fiscal 2022 authorization, and ask that your Administration and the Legislature consider a multi-year authorization to avoid a process that lurches from year to year.
A multi-year bill would significantly improve the ability to plan at the local level by adding a measure of predictability and certainty regarding the amount and the timing of these critical local road funds. When Chapter 90 funding levels differ from year to year, or the timing of their release is uncertain, it is difficult for cities and towns to manage multi-year projects or implement long-term comprehensive pavement management plans. Moreover, as the Commonwealth recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, enacting a multi-year Chapter 90 authorization would add to budgetary stability and legislative efficiency.
We very much appreciate the shock that the pandemic has had on the state’s operating budget and the fiscal challenges faced by decision-makers at the state and local levels. However, reimbursements paid under this critical municipal roads program are financed through the state’s capital program and are substantially separate from the general appropriations act. Therefore, we believe a long-awaited increase in Chapter 90 funds to be affordable under your own capital funding plan.
Chapter 90 bond-funded allocations have been generally flat at $200 million since fiscal 2012, except for fiscal 2015 when your Administration released $100 million in previously withheld authorizations to bring that year’s Chapter 90 funding to a very welcome $300 million. There have also been three smaller one-time supplemental authorizations ($30 million in fiscal 2015 for the Winter Recovery Program; $40 million in a cash appropriation from the fiscal 2018 state surplus; and $20 million in a cash appropriation in fiscal 2020 from the fiscal 2019 state surplus).
The reality is that the purchasing power of the Chapter 90 program has been substantially diminished since fiscal 2012. With Chapter 90 remaining at $200 million for fiscal 2021, the real (inflation-adjusted) level of state support for local road projects has dropped by 34%, to an inflation-adjusted $132 million in fiscal 2021. That is a loss of $68 million in purchasing power over the past nine years.
As you know well, municipalities spend far less on road maintenance and repairs than the estimated annual expenditure of $700 million that is needed to get our municipal road infrastructure system into a state of good repair. With a tightly capped property tax, communities do not have the resources to close this massive $500 million gap.
Increasing the bond authorization to $300 million annually would be an important step forward. Not only does the Chapter 90 program help keep municipal roads safe and in good condition, but it also supports local businesses and economies in all parts of the state. These funds would be put to work immediately, and contribute to the state’s economic recovery as well.
Thank you very much for your partnership with cities and towns on so many issues. This is the time to make progress in addressing local transportation funding needs. If you have any questions regarding our comments, or require additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Ariela Lovett at email@example.com or 973-634-5307 at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO
CC: The Honorable Karyn Polito, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth
Secretary Stephanie Pollack, MassDOT