BOSTON — Seeking an end to the waiting game played annually by municipal officials from Cape Ann to Cape Cod and the Berkshires, with Transportation Secretary Richard Davey looking to file a 10-year, $3 billion bond bill to fund local road and other transportation projects.
“It’s very difficult for cities and towns to plan if we are not providing you with a stable set of resources or a five-year capital plan,” Davey told Local Government Advisory Commission members at a meeting Tuesday outside Gov. Deval Patrick’s office.
Davey said that “in the next couple weeks,” the governor plans to file a bond bill that would fund the Chapter 90 program at an annual rate of $300 million, tied to the consumer price index, for 10 years.
If passed, the bond bill would end the process of municipal officials waiting each year for the House, Senate and governor to agree on Chapter 90 amounts, an exercise that can run up construction costs and delay needed projects and jobs. Last year, the Chapter 90 bill didn’t become law until August, late in the road construction season. The deadline for a Chapter 90 bill is April 1.
Funding local roads at $300 million would represent a 50 percent increase from the annual funding level of $200 million this year and the year before.
The multi-year local road funding bill is part of Gov. Deval Patrick’s transportation repair and expansion proposal, funded by a planned overhaul of the tax code that would raise the income tax, lower the sales tax, and eliminate dozens of tax incentives to raise about $1.9 billion more per year.
“Right now, we are going to make a decision – all of us – about what kind of Commonwealth we want and whether we’re going to invest in it, whether we’re going to sacrifice for it,” Patrick said of his plans for transportation investment. “Whether it matters to people who use The Ride, or need a train to run late so they can get home from work or school or who need a bus route to expand so that it unlocks economic opportunity where they live and where they want to work, where the regions of the Commonwealth that have gone ignored for a long time because they only thing we think to invest in was the Big Dig.
“Are we going to turn that around or are we going to accept it the way it is and has been? I say turn it around,” Patrick said.
Municipal officials who attended the meeting said they are supportive of Patrick’s plan. Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan said that, if the administration funds Chapter 90 at $300 million and files that Chapter 90 bill by March 1, he and others will mobilize in favor of the transportation plan that day.
“We would ask, respectfully, that you go beyond the $200 million and we commit to the $300 million program. We know that’s capital. We know that’s bonding, and we know that we can show the connect-the-dot projects specific to our communities,” said Sullivan. “If you’re able to do that by March the first, we will focus on mobilizing, effective that day, to help you, and to help the administration.”
In response, Davey said, “We’ll work to March 1. If that’s what your request is, then we’ll see if we can meet it.”
Asked what benefit local officials would gain by Patrick filing his Chapter 90 bill on March 1, Massachusetts Municipal Association Executive Director Geoff Beckwith said, “What’s so critical about filing legislation is beginning that process.”
“There’s an April 1 statutory and customary deadline for the state to actually release Chapter 90 funds to cities and towns in what’s called a full authorization so that local officials can put the money to work right away during the construction season,” he said. “The last two years, the construction season has been delayed, in part because the legislation has been filed too late to actually be considered.”
The governor’s overall transportation plan, bound up in the budget with tax increases and more education spending, is no sure thing, as House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have expressed a cautious openness toward the idea. DeLeo said he has heard “grave concerns” about the plan.
The support of Sullivan and other mayors across the state would lend some political heft to the governor’s proposal, and Sullivan said he is in favor of it.
“I think as mayors we’re very supportive of what the governor’s trying to accomplish here, which is to have a vital, strong transportation comprehensive program throughout the entire state,” Sullivan told the News Service after the meeting. He said, “We’re not just looking to grab the municipal piece of Chapter 90.”
Asked what his support would mean, Sullivan said, “I think you’ll see many municipal leaders stand with the governor in support of the plan. If we can connect the dots in terms of the revenue piece to specific projects in our communities, then I think you can generate a real tangible result that people will have a sense of credibility in the governor’s plan.”