By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service
Gov. Charlie Baker again plans to propose $200 million in new local road and bridge repair funding, a level that falls below what cities and towns have asserted is required to address needs.
Municipal officials have consistently sought a $300 million annual allocation as well as a multi-year funding commitment, but have been unable to convince Baker or House and Senate Democrats to agree to their approach.
The governor disclosed his plans during virtual remarks delivered Saturday morning to the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a collection of local officials who are pushing revenue-sharing to the forefront and eyeing a bigger piece of the pie as state tax collections pour in at record levels.
Annual funds under the state Chapter 90 road and bridge program are split among 351 cities and towns, and the MMA on Saturday described the program’s funding level as “stuck” at $200 million for the past decade. Local officials say maintenance needs remain but the program has lost one-third of its purchasing power since 2012.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller expressed disappointment with Friday’s announcement by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito that cities and towns will get a 2.7 percent, $31.5 million increase in unrestricted local aid under the annual budget proposal that Baker plans to file on Wednesday.
The MMA had asked Baker for a $264 million increase in fiscal 2023 unrestricted local aid, noting fiscal 2020 state tax collections of $29.63 billion are on pace to rise more than $6.3 billion, to an estimated $35.95 billion in fiscal 2022. During that period, the MMA wrote in a letter to Baker on Jan. 15, unrestricted aid rose by 3.55 percent, or $39.5 million.
Fuller also cited high inflation and limits on local property tax increases, calling the slight increase in the $1.2 billion unrestricted aid account “the worst of news.” She added, “A lot of us were expecting a higher number given the state revenue growth in the last few years.”
Baker said his administration over the last seven years has kept its promise to tie unrestricted aid increases to projected increases in state tax revenues, and did not return to municipalities earlier in his tenure to ask for money back when state tax collections fell short of projections.
The governor didn’t rule out additional revenue-sharing proposals later this year.
“The deal was the deal and we honored it when it didn’t work for us,” Baker said. “And I think in some ways there are a lot of different places and spaces in which we can support you guys on this if it turns out that we have an oversupply of state revenue as we head toward the end of the year and we’ll certainly be willing to talk about that.”
Final local aid and Chapter 90 program levels will ultimately be determined in the coming months by the House and Senate, where Democrats hold super-majorities that enable them to control most budgetary funding levels.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey outlined for local officials the flood of new federal funds available across Massachusetts under new federal laws, urging them to engage in ongoing efforts to make sure those funds are invested wisely.
Warren and Markey also said they are working to preserve whatever is possible in the so-called Build Back Better bill, legislation featuring an array of domestic spending initiatives that Washington Democrats have so far been unable to pass.
“We need to make sure that we get this bill passed,” Markey said.