On March 13, 2013, Governor Patrick filed his comprehensive transportation bond legislation, proposing $19 billion in investments over the next ten years. This bond bill offers the first specific numbers for funding the policy proposals outlined in the MassDOT strategic plan released in January.
In the bill, the Governor proposes $4.6 billion for highway maintenance and construction, $4.4 billion for regional rail, and $3.3 billion to modernize the MBTA subways and buses. He also proposes that an additional $2.4 billion be frontloaded over the next four years into construction projects eligible for partial federal reimbursements. The bill includes additional provisions for funding regional transit and for DOT information technology upgrades.
Yet apart from the substantive expenditure proposals, perhaps the Governor’s most notable strategic decision is his proposal that $3.4 billion of the funds be expended as Chapter 90 local aid, to be sent directly to municipalities for local transportation infrastructure projects.
The Governor is well aware that legislative leadership has expressed hesitation about whether taxpayers are willing to foot the bill for major transportation investments, particularly as the Governor openly acknowledges that such investments will need to be paid for “by existing revenues and additional revenues through passage of tax reform.”
Now, by giving each of the 351 municipalities a clear financial stake in the passage of the bond bill, the Governor appears to be betting that the appeal of increased local flexibility — combined with initiatives like new interactive online mapping tools that show exactly what transportation improvements each local community can expect to receive — will help assuage taxpayer concerns that new revenues for statewide transportation improvements will simply go to waste.
The ball has now moved to the Legislature’s court, and the debate on transportation funding is just getting started. However, the Governor’s proposal suggests that he thinks the best chance for securing comprehensive statewide transportation funding is to embrace the maxim that at the end of the day, all politics – and all infrastructure improvement – is local.