Patrick draws line in the sand on local aid funds
Gov. Deval Patrick may be a lame duck, but he has plenty of political fight left in him this budget season. The annual spectacle of dysfunction over local aid funding is even more complicated this year: The governor has decided to strong arm Beacon Hill lawmakers over a long-term transportation revenue package by forcing municipal leaders to beg and plead for their local aid funds.
At the end of May, Patrick made good on his threat to hold back on some of the so-called Chapter 90 funding. He signed a “terms bill” Tuesday that should allow state officials to move to bond out the $300 million program. However, only $150 million of the $300 million allocated to cities and towns is going out to finance their fiscal 2014 road repairs.
Patrick continues to sit on the other half. The administration’s calculation appears to be that pressure from municipal officials, desperate to deal with road repairs before drivers start howling and snow starts flying, could force the Legislature’s joint conference committee to come up with more transportation revenue rather than less as they try to reconcile the $500 million House and $800 million Senate transportation finance plans.
No one likes to negotiate in the court of public opinion, least of all House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, or their lieutenants on the conference committee. Tim Murray, once the governor’s well-liked emissary to cities and towns, has retreated to the safer confines of Worcester. So that leaves the fight to proxies: mayors and city and town managers and Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor.
“I have to register with you a real sense of disappointment, confusion, bewilderment, a level of upsetness in terms of where we are today versus where we thought we were a few weeks ago,” Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan told Shor in a meeting yesterday, according to a State House News Service report. “Instead of a 50 percent increase, we get a 25 percent U-turn and it’s frustrating. It’s very frustrating.”
Shor said that “depending” on the final plan that the conference committee comes up with, cities and towns could see the rest of the funding before the fall. Or next spring. He added that municipal leaders should have heeded Tim Murray’s warning earlier this spring that funding might be reduced “on a prorated, tentative basis” depending on the final transportation finance package that legislative leaders agree on. Murray thought that figure could be as little as $240 million. Instead, the cities and towns will see far less.
However the final transportation revenue numbers play out, Patrick’s gambit is a shrewd way to stay relevant while keeping the debate for more transportation funding alive. Whether a lame duck governor can beat the House Speaker and the Senate President at their own game is a dicier proposition.
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