Baker commits to filing multi-year road repair funding bill despite legislative doubts
BOSTON — Pressed by local officials Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker said he will file a bill requesting multiple years of road and bridge repair money for municipalities, despite acknowledging that the Legislature is unlikely to support the idea.
Jim Lovejoy, a selectman from Mount Washington and member of the Local Government Advisory Commission, argued that a multi-year Chapter 90 borrowing bill would give municipalities the freedom to plan projects and bid early in the construction season in order to lock in better prices.
"For a town like Mount Washington, we need to plan ahead. Our Chapter 90 allocation is not sufficient for us to do a single project in a single year. We need to save money and allocate local funds over a period of years in order to make this work and actually get anything done," he said. "Having some sort of a long-term commitment would really help us to be able to plan and make better use of the Chapter 90 money we're allocated."
Mount Washington, a Berkshire County town of fewer than 200 people that borders both New York and Connecticut, was allotted $70,982 to care for its 18 miles of road in fiscal year 2016, according to the Department of Transportation.
During the LGAC meeting Tuesday, Baker said he has had many conversations with legislative leaders about a multi-year Chapter 90 funding bill, but he sensed little support for the idea. Lovejoy pressed him to keep it part of the conversation, and Baker later said he would file a bill requesting multi-year commitment of Chapter 90 funding.
"There's doesn't seem to be a lot of appetite in the Legislature to do Chapter 90 on a multi-year basis, but given the commentary we heard from the LGAC folks we'll file it as a multi-year and we'll advocate for it," the governor said after the meeting. "I would like to do it as a multi-year myself, to tell you the truth, for all the reasons that they suggested there. It's exactly the same reason why we would like at the state level to see the federal government do a multi-year proposal on federal highway funding because it gives you the ability to plan."
The LGAC also pushed Baker to again fund Chapter 90 at $300 million per year, with Lovejoy calling it "really useful and really the best bang for the buck."
Lovejoy said the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which has several representatives on the LGAC, conducted a survey of its members and found that the state's municipalities "have a $639 million hole" in terms of road repair funding.
Baker did not commit to a certain level of funding, but said his administration will "do all we can to get as much of that in as we possibly can." He also agreed to file a Chapter 90 appropriation soon to give municipalities the ability to get right to work when the construction season starts.
In one of his first actions after taking office in January 2015, Baker released $100 million in road and bridge repair funding that his predecessor, Gov. Deval Patrick, had refused to authorize. Then in March, Baker filed for an additional $200 million in Chapter 90 funding that was approved by the Legislature for the spring start to the construction season.
The release fulfilled a campaign promise and helped cities and towns to a combined $300 million annual allotment of Chapter 90 road and bridge funding in 2015, the level initially recommended by the state Legislature a year prior.
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