Dear Senator,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association appreciates the action that the Legislature took over the past few weeks to enact a Chapter 90 bond authorization for fiscal 2021. As you well know, our municipalities rely on this critical source of funding to move forward with vitally important road improvement and maintenance projects during the construction season each year.

We write to you now regarding S. 2813, An Act Authorizing and Accelerating Transportation Investment, known as the transportation bond bill. As the Senate considers the wide range of capital priorities contained in the bill, we respectfully reiterate our request that you support long-term and increased funding for the Chapter 90 local roads program. The MMA is strongly supporting Amendment #258, offered by Senator Hinds, which would authorize Chapter 90 for five years, at $300 million per year, adjusted for inflation.

We know you recognize the importance of this long-awaited increase to Chapter 90. The Senate’s earlier vote on S. 2746 to maintain the $300 million authorization passed earlier by the House is deeply appreciated by the MMA and local officials in every corner of the state, and demonstrates your support for your local government partners.

While significant questions remain concerning local and state operating budgets and revenue collections due to the COVID-19 emergency, it is fortunate that Chapter 90 reimbursements are financed through the state’s capital program. Bond authorization expenditures are substantially separate from the general appropriations act, and are affordable under the fiscal 2021 capital plan released by the Governor in late June.

Leading economists all agree that investment in public construction and capital improvements stimulate the economy and trigger development, growth and recovery. Thus, Chapter 90 has a positive impact far beyond keeping 30,000 miles of municipal roads safe and in good condition – it is a tool to support local businesses, create jobs, and boost economies in all parts of the state. Alongside their Chapter 90 allocation, cities and towns appropriate local revenues and use municipal bond funds for local road repairs, but cannot keep up with needed state-of-good-repair work, especially in small towns, without some measure of regular growth in Chapter 90 authorizations. As you know, we have long requested increasing Chapter 90 to $300 million a year, indexed to grow with inflation each year for this purpose.

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). Yet the challenging reality is that the purchasing power of the Chapter 90 program has been substantially diminished since fiscal 2012. If Chapter 90 remains at $200 million for fiscal 2021, the real (inflation-adjusted) level of state support for local road projects will have dropped by 34 percent, to an inflation-adjusted $132.3 million in fiscal 2021. That is a loss of $67.7 million in purchasing power over the past nine years.

The transportation bond bill before you also renews funding for several MassDOT grant programs for municipalities, including the Municipal Small Bridge Program and Complete Streets Funding Program, and funds a new Pavement Improvement Program. MMA member communities across the Commonwealth have been beneficiaries of the Complete Streets and Small Bridge grant programs for several years, using the funds to pay for discrete projects that would be difficult to complete without state support. The new pavement improvement program would help fund construction on locally-owned, state-numbered routes, which we know from our members are costly to maintain with local funding alone. We respectfully ask that you maintain these additional sources of municipal transportation funding in the final version of the bond bill.

Local government is a key partner with the state and the Legislature in upgrading and expanding our transportation infrastructure, phasing out fossil fuel use in our transportation sector, and continuing to strengthen the Commonwealth’s economy. As the Senate considers the transportation bond bill this week, we urge you to remember that long-term and increased Chapter 90 funding is critical to advancing that vision. Funding Chapter 90 at $300 million per year, adjusted to inflation over five years, would enable our cities and towns to rebuild, maintain and improve the condition of the 30,000 miles of local roads that connect every citizen and business in our state.

Thank you again for your long-standing support of and partnership with Massachusetts municipalities. Please do not hesitate to have your office contact me, MMA Legislative Director John Robertson at jrobertson@mma.org, or MMA Legislative Analyst Ariela Lovett at alovett@mma.org if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO