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Berkshire Lawmakers Seek Swift Action On Borrowing Terms Bill For $300M Transportation Plan

401(K) 2013, flickr

Since approving a $300 million transportation funding bill last week, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently filed a terms bill, which if approved by the legislature, would provide funding to roads and bridge projects before the end of the summer work season.

Now that Governor Patrick has released his “terms” bill, it’s up to the state legislature to vote on how the state treasurer will borrow to fund the $300 million in so-called Chapter 90 funding. The bill calls for a borrowing term of 30 years or less for the bond. Chapter 90 aid is distributed to cities and towns across the commonwealth to help with road and bridge repair, and other similar projects.

Democratic State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield is one of the legislators eager to move the process forward and get cities and towns the money before the end of the current construction season.

"Our hope now is to move the terms bill as expeditiously as possible so that our cities and towns can get those projects bid out and take advantage of what is remaining in the construction season," said Downing.

State Representative William ‘Smitty’ Pignatelli, a Democrat of the 4th Berkshire District, said that although some of the construction season has already passed, he was pleased to see the $300 million in Chapter 90 funds approved in May, although he would like to see it finalized sooner. Pignatelli said the process in recent years has been far too slow.    

“This is the third year I think there's been deficiencies. Two years ago the legislature actually adopted $200 million in a very timely way in my opinion, but then the governor's office failed to do the terms bill in a timely way. Last year the House adopted a $200 million Chapter 90 bill in a very timely way, that sadly turned into a 1.3 billion transportation bill in the senate and we were held hostage," said Pignatelli. 

Pignatelli added that he hopes the process will be completed quicker in future years.

The $300 million in Chapter 90 funds approved in this year’s bill marks a 50 percent increase over last year’s amount.

Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said that he’s happy with the increase, but the Association has determined that cities and towns require a greater amount of funding to keep roads well-maintained.

“We determined that the actual need for cities and towns to be able to maintain their municipal roads...the annual amount the communities would need to spend is actually $562 million," said Beckwith.

Before cities and towns can put road and bridge projects out to bid, letters of authorization must be sent to the communities from the state.

Beckwith said that he hopes that the legislature, the governor and his administration act quickly and ensure that all of the funding is distributed in a timely manner.

"So we need those letters of authorization to go out to cities and towns and that means that we'll need the governor to release all $300 million of the Chapter 90 funds. At the stage after the legislature has acted with the bond authorization, the governor has discretion as to how much of that money would get shared with cities and towns, and obviously local officials need 100 percent of the funds to be shared," said Beckwith.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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