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,
As we near the end of fiscal year 2021, we are grateful for the reopening of the Commonwealth and the state’s strong financial position. Due to proactive and prudent fiscal management during the public health emergency, it appears the state will end the year with nearly $4 billion in surplus revenue. With the last several months of tax collections far surpassing the benchmark, the state will end the year in a much stronger position than most would have anticipated one year ago.
As the state transitions into fiscal year 2022, a lot of work remains to close out the current year to ensure that the Commonwealth meets all of its fiscal obligations and continues to prioritize vaccinations and the full range of key interventions to address the pandemic’s ongoing public health and economic challenges, while making prudent use of higher-than-anticipated tax revenues and appropriately leveraging federal CARES Act and ARPA receipts.
During the close-out of fiscal 2021, we understand and respect that one of the state’s priorities will be using a significant portion of surplus tax revenues to replenish the state’s stabilization account. This will be an important step to ensure the state’s long-term fiscal health and resilience going forward, action made much easier by the infusion of new ARPA funds that will be available for a wide range of essential recovery and rebuilding investments, including water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. This is also a time to use the state’s envious fiscal position to make vital investments in areas not covered by ARPA, and as such, we ask you to prioritize supplemental funding for the Chapter 90 local road program in your final fiscal 2021 budget bill.
As you know, municipal and state ARPA funds provided through the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund are not available for transportation-related investments – a significant concern, as cities and towns are struggling to maintain their roads and bridges. On behalf of communities across the Commonwealth, we are respectfully and urgently asking for a supplemental $200 million cash appropriation for the Chapter 90 program, in addition to the $200 million bond bill making its way through the legislative process. This investment would address a vital long-term need that is essential to our economic recovery and growth.
As the MMA has advocated for many years, cities and towns desperately need an increase in locally controlled funds used to maintain 30,000 miles of local roads and bridges in a state of good repair. Our recently updated biennial survey on gaps in local road funding across the state demonstrates that cities and towns need $600 million in Chapter 90 funding to adequately fund municipal road and bridge projects. Current Chapter 90 bond funding, flat at $200 million annually, supports only one-third of reported need. Further, more than three-quarters of survey respondents reported that they have had to save up Chapter 90 funds over the past five years to cover the cost of necessary road projects that exceed their annual allotment.
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, this year and 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.
Chapter 90 bond-funded allocations have been generally flat at $200 million since fiscal 2012, except for fiscal 2015 when you 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 percent, 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 $600 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 $400 million gap.
While increasing the bond authorization would be an important permanent solution, we believe the state’s fiscal 2021 surplus offers a unique opportunity to provide essential relief. Not only does the Chapter 90 program keep municipal roads safe and in good condition, 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 abiding support for 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 us at any time. Your staff can contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Jackie Lavender Bird at 617-426-7272 ext. 123, or email@example.com at any time.
We thank you for your partnership with the communities of Massachusetts.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO
cc: The Honorable Karyn E. Polito, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth
The Honorable Karen Spilka, Senate President
The Honorable Ronald Mariano, Speaker of the House
Secretary Michael J. Heffernan, Executive Office for Administration and Finance