Governor Charlie Baker on Saturday announced that his next capital spending plan would again seek $200 million in funding for local road and bridge projects over the objections of municipal leaders who say spending in this area has been flat for about a decade and needs to be increased.
Baker made the announcement while addressing a virtual gathering of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Since taking office seven years ago, Baker said his administration has awarded nearly $1.6 billion to communities through the program, including an extra $100 million in 2015 which had been withheld the previous year.
Massachusetts is set to receive about $9.5 billion in federal funds under the infrastructure law signed by President Biden in November. Baker is expected to announce plans for that funding soon, a spokesman said Saturday.
But Geoff Beckwith, the municipal association’s executive director and chief executive, said little if any money from the federal infrastructure law can be put toward the routine maintenance and repair of local roads that the state program supports. The federal money, he said, is generally intended for larger, complex projects that affect more than one community.
Local communities want state leaders to raise the annual amount of funding for the program to $300 million to offset inflation costs and keep roads in better condition so they don’t require more expensive repairs later, he said.
Baker’s $200 million proposed allotment represents a third of what the municipal association estimates it costs cities and towns to keep their 30,000 miles of roads in good repair annually and hasn’t kept pace with the 40 percent increase in construction costs since 2012.
“It costs 10 times more to fix a road that has failed than maintaining it in good condition,” Beckwith said.
The association also wants state leaders to end the practice of funding the program on an annual basis, and instead allocate payments that can be spent over several years. The shift would allow communities to plan road projects in advance instead of having to wait every year until lawmakers finalize the capital spending budget before they can sign contracts with construction companies, Beckwith said.
State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump also criticized Baker’s spending proposal for local roads. In October, she urged Baker and state lawmakers to increase the funding amount to $300 million and called for more support for communities in Western Massachusetts, which has more rural areas.
In a statement, Bump said she hopes the Legislature offers more funding for local roads.
“This is highly disappointing. Honestly, given our positive revenues and the documented need for increased local road assistance, it is incomprehensible,” she said. “Rural communities have fallen behind in basic road maintenance and aren’t even able to compete for many grant programs, since they lack engineering and planning staff.”
The offices of House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka didn’t respond Saturday to requests for comment.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, the incoming president of the municipal association, asked Baker about his plans to seek a 2.7 percent increase in local aid in next year’s budget. The proposed increase fell short of expectations, according to Fuller, who described the plan as “the worst of news.”
Communities face rising inflation and state law limits municipal property tax increases, she said.
“A lot of us were expecting a higher number given the state revenue growth in the last few years,” Fuller said.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito announced plans for the $31.5 million local aid increase when she addressed the municipal group on Friday.
Baker said that during years when state income fell short of projections his administration didn’t lower local aid amounts.
“The deal was the deal and we honored it when it didn’t work for us,” he said.
His administration could revisit local aid funding, Baker said, if state revenue collections exceed expectations.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly incorrectly characterized Governor Charlie Baker’s proposal to get transportation aid for local road and bridge projects. The story has been changed to indicate that the aid will be sought as part of a capital spending plan.