Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable William Straus, House Chair
The Honorable Joseph Boncore, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Transportation
State House, Boston
Dear Chair Straus, Chair Boncore, and Members of the Committee,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the MMA respectfully requests that the Joint Committee on Transportation issue a favorable report on H. 57, An Act Financing Improvements to Municipal Roads and Bridges, and we ask that you increase the Chapter 90 bond authorization amount for fiscal 2022 to $300 million.
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 our cities and towns need $600 million in Chapter 90 funding to adequately fund municipal road and bridge projects. Current Chapter 90 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.
We also respectfully ask the committee to act on H. 57 as quickly as possible, so that the measure can be signed into law before the customary April 1 deadline, allowing cities and towns to begin the construction season on time. 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 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year caused the delay of many matters, including passage of the fiscal 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 committee consider a multiyear authorization to avoid a process that lurches from year to year.
A multiyear 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 multiyear projects or implement long-term comprehensive pavement management plans. Moreover, as the Commonwealth recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, enacting a multiyear 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. The long-awaited increase in Chapter 90 funding is certainly affordable under the Governor’s own capital funding plan.
Chapter 90 bond-funded allocations have been generally flat at $200 million since fiscal 2012, except for fiscal 2015 when the 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 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.
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, 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