State lawmakers are talking about ways to find more money for cities and towns to fix aging water infrastructure and expect to introduce a proposed finance package in September.
Now that a $500 million tax law is in place to pay for transportation, addressing the state’s water needs is probably next on the list, say lawmakers and an official from the trust fund that oversees clean water and drinking water projects.
Senator James Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, said he is working with Senate President Therese Murray’s office on a water infrastructure package to be introduced in the fall.
“That is something I am spending a lot of time on this summer,” Eldridge said.
Senate leaders have been more vocal, but it is on House members’ minds, as well.
Representative James Cantwell, Democrat of Marshfield, said he expects the Legislature to move the issue forward. “We certainly are going to see, I think, some legislative action,” he said.
Cantwell said every community in the state is faced with aging water infrastructure, and many have made investments. “We want to make sure, whatever we are doing this fall, we do something to protect those investments,” he said.
Eldridge said he could not provide details about the upcoming proposal.
In a speech after she was reelected Senate president in January, Murray identified unmet water infrastructure needs as a top priority this session. While water infrastructure has not grabbed the spotlight in the way transportation policy has this year, its supporters highlight major economic and environmental implications.
Lawmakers identified a $21.4 billion long-term funding gap last year for drinking and clean water investments.
Susan Perez, executive director of the Water Pollution Abatement Trust Fund, said she expects the Legislature to address the issue this fall.
During an oversight hearing Tuesday, Representative Antonio Cabral — Democrat of New Bedford and chairman of the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets — said he would like to see the trust establish a separate fund not subject to federal restrictions, to give communities targeted grants for water infrastructure projects.
Eldridge said creating a separate fund is under consideration.
“That is probably the biggest recommendation,” Eldridge said. “Is it time for a separate fund that would allow the Commonwealth to focus on innovation, as well as regionalization?”