GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 5, 2013

City, town road funds in doubt

From Wire and Staff Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — As the House quickly advanced a $500 million tax package, Gov. Deval Patrick is raising doubts about whether the amount of new revenue being pursued by legislative leaders will be sufficient to support a consensus increase in local road and bridge repair funding, and suggested House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray were trying to “position” him by jointly agreeing to the plan.

The tax proposal put forth by DeLeo and Murray raises only half of the new revenue the governor requested in his budget for transportation with new taxes on gas, tobacco and businesses, and funds none of the education initiatives Patrick sought with his $1.9 billion tax reform plan.

“I’ve been clear publicly and with the legislative leadership that I’m willing to compromise, but I do think there is such a thing as too small,” Patrick said. “We’ve got to be serious about investing in ways that give us growth, and investing in transportation and in education do that.”

The House on Wednesday took procedural votes to tee up for debate on Monday the tax plan and a related borrowing bill that would increase funding for Chapter 90 authorizing $300 million for local road and bridge repairs.

Patrick said an analysis by Transportation Secretary Richard Davey “raises some question” about whether the state can afford to boost Chapter 90 funding by $100 million with the level of new revenue proposed by legislative leaders.

In order to meet an April 1 deadline to inform municipalities of their expected level of funding, the Patrick administration sent out letters on Monday informing cities and towns how much money they would receive based on a $300 million program, but cautioned that it was contingent on sufficient revenues.

Cities and towns cannot sign contracts or agreements for construction until a Chapter 90 bond bill is approved and signed by Patrick, and the issue is being targeted by local officials, including Gloucester Public Works Director Mike Hale.

“Approval of funds for local road construction and resurfacing — state Chapter 90 money that comes from a share of the gas tax – was delayed for months last year,” Hale wrote in a My View column that appeared in Tuesday’s Times. “This red tape cost cities and towns on Cape Ann and across the Commonwealth nearly 75 percent of the paving season, preventing the start of many necessary road repair projects.

“Every construction season delayed or missed puts us years behind in road work,” Hale added. “The paving season in our state is brief, running only from May to September, and by getting Chapter 90 money later and later, we are forced to do the work in bad weather — and work done in the cold simply does not last as long.

“That’s why it’s so critical,” Hale said, “that the $300 million needed to pave local roads is passed and funded by the end of April this year.

Yet, the governor sounded warnings about that funding Wednesday.

“Without that passage of either our tax reform proposal or additional revenue that is derived from options substantively comparable to that which we have proposed, investment in the Chapter 90 program will not be implemented,” the governor wrote in the letter also signed by Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.

Asked his opinion on the House and Senate coming together to collaborate on a tax plan before either branch debates its budget, Patrick said, “Politics.” When asked to elaborate, he said,

“It’s part of the way the building works,” the governor said. “People are constantly trying to position themselves and position me. That goes with it. I get it.”