Lawmakers are revising road funding formula

THE HOUSE’S TRANSPORTATION policy leader pledged Wednesday that lawmakers will consider revising the state’s road and bridge funding formula, an indication that years of complaints by rural lawmakers may finally pay off.

“The Chapter 90 allocation is based on a population area road mile formula that was developed by MassDOT decades ago,” said Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat who is the House chair of the Transportation Committee. “There’s no question that some examination of how that formula is determined should occur.”

Straus said when a revision could happen is still to be determined. “That may occur at a committee level, it may occur in recommendations from House Ways and Means, it may occur during budget debate, it’s hard to tell,” Straus said.

Straus made his comments on the House floor during a debate over an amendment to a supplemental budget bill that would have added an additional $100 million to the Chapter 90 formula, the formula that provides money to every city and town annually for road and bridge repairs.

The budget bill included $100 million to fix road damage caused by the winter weather. But an earlier version of the bill introduced by Gov. Charlie Baker would have also added an additional $100 million of Chapter 90 funding. An amendment introduced by Rep. Kelly Pease, a Westfield Republican, would have put that money back into the House bill. It was voted down along party lines, 28 to 128.

Straus said the problem with adding the extra $100 million is a “fairness question with regard to the Chapter 90 allocation that many colleagues have been talking about and bringing up for years.” Since discussion is ongoing about revising the formula, Straus said by supporting additional money now, “you will be effectively taking away from yourselves the ability to engage in that discussion about how we allocate additional Chapter 90 money.”

The problem that rural lawmakers have been complaining about is that the funding formula, established in 1972, is based on population, employment, and road mileage. Under the calculation, 58.33 percent of the money is distributed based on road miles, and 20.83 percent each is based on employment and population. Some communities in central and Western Massachusetts are large geographically but have few people – so they have lots of roads to maintain but get less money from the formula due to population. They also have a smaller tax base from which to raise additional money.

Lawmakers have in recent years been putting $200 million a year into Chapter 90 funding.

Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, said he was excited to hear Straus talk about revamping the formula. “I think we’re building some momentum,” Pignatelli said. There are people across the commonwealth that see a big discrepancy in this formula, and it needs to be addressed.”

Pignatelli wants the formula to be based primarily on road miles, not population or employment. “It’s unfair,” he said. “There’s three criteria in this formula, and two of the three rural towns will never achieve.”

The problem, of course, is that any formula that creates winners will also create losers, unless more money is allocated. And lawmakers from more populous areas are unlikely to support a formula shift that lowers the allocation to their communities.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association has been advocating for years for more Chapter 90 money to be distributed annually, arguing that the current funding level does not come close to meeting communities’ needs. One potential advantage to lawmakers in considering a formula revamp this year is the state is swimming in money, both surplus tax revenue and federal recovery aid. So lawmakers could choose to add more money into the formula and hold communities harmless, so that no one loses money and a revision becomes politically viable.  

Straus did not respond to a request for more details about what he is considering.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

Medical aid in dying: The Supreme Judicial Court delves into weighty legal and moral issues as it considers whether to legalize medical aid in dying.

– Perhaps the biggest legal hurdle is whether the court should “legislate” the issue (as it did with gay marriage and the US Supreme Court did with abortion) or whether the decision properly belongs to lawmakers on Beacon Hill, who have rejected the idea numerous times. Ten states and Washington, DC, allow physicians to prescribe drugs that will end a terminally ill patient’s life.  Only one – Montana – legalized the practice through a judicial ruling, rather than legislation or a ballot question. 

– The court also wrestled with the moral distinctions between sedating someone who is nearing death and withholding nutrition, which is done currently, and writing a prescription allowing them to die on their own terms, which currently could lead to manslaughter charges. “Do you not see the paternalistic part of this?” asked Justice Serge Georges. “As he’s dying in a way he doesn’t want to, the only interest that seems to be articulated here is ‘because we feel better about the fact that you can’t do that.’” Read more.

Votes loom on Encore: Encore Boston Harbor tried to defuse concerns about the entertainment complex its parent company wants to build across the street from the Everett casino and concerts and other events being held in its ballroom. Both issues are coming before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission today, with possible votes looming. Read more.

Gas tax not going away: The House rejects a suspension of the gas tax as a response to the rapid runup in gasoline prices, as leaders promise to pursue “real relief.” Democrats call the GOP proposal a gimmick and a stunt. Read more.

OPINION

Thumbs down on transfer tax: Gregory Vasil, the CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, lays out why a transfer tax on real estate is a bad idea. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The Governor’s Council will no longer livestream meetings, as was done throughout the pandemic, a move that at least one member and outside transparency advocates are decrying as a move backwards that will limit access to the panel’s deliberations. (Boston Herald

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

New York developer Center Court Partners unveils a plan for property near the JFK/UMass subway station that involves four life science-oriented buildings ranging in size from 9 to 22 stories high. (Dorchester Reporter)

The Amherst Town Council votes 12-0 to bring a home rule petition to the Legislature seeking approval to provide reparations to Black residents. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Indigenous people advocate to change Dartmouth High School’s “Indian” name and mascot. (Standard-Times)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial praises the tiny towns of Becket and Otis for deciding to share a police chief. 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The US Department of Veterans Affairs will call for closing the VA medical center in Northampton. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The New York Times tells the story of a Ukrainian mother and her two children, whose horrific killing on Sunday by a Russian strike as they attempted to flee the bombings was captured in a seering photograph showing their lifeless bodies just after the attack. 

The lost ship of explorer Ernest Shackleton is found 106 years after the vessel sank off of Antarctica. It’s in remarkably good shape. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

The race for district attorney in Berkshire County is starting to get crowded, as longtime trial attorney Timothy Shugrue announces he is running. Defense attorney and former prosecutor Robert Sullivan is already running and incumbent Andrea Harrington is expected to seek reelection. (Berkshire Eagle)

Sen. Ed Markey endorsed Andrea Campbell in the Democratic primary for attorney general, the first member of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation to back a candidate in a three-way primary to succeed outgoing AG Maura Healey. (Boston Globe

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Fidelity Investments saw revenue jump 15 percent last year, driven in part by the stock-trading boom driven by social media focused on companies like Gamestop. (Boston Globe

TRANSPORTATION

State lawmakers seek to limit how long trains can idle in residential neighborhoods. (Salem News)

This weekend will mark the end for the MBTA’s electric “trackless trolley” buses that have plied routes from Harvard Square to Watertown for 90 years. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Fifty years after an initial cleanup effort, environmental activists set a goal of making the Blackstone River swimmable again, after decades of pollution. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Saugus Board of Health loses an appeal of a Department of Environmental Protection decision allowing Win Waste Innovations (formerly Wheelabrator Saugus) to dump ash from its trash-burning facility at its landfill. (Daily Item)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Suffolk Superior Court judge ordered Stephen Pina freed after 28 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit, citing new revelations that prosecutors and police withheld crucial evidence, while he considers Pina’s bid for a new trial. (Boston Globe

The US attorney’s office has subpoenaed the city of Boston as part of its investigation of Violence in Boston, the nonprofit led by Monica Cannon-Grant, but the city revealed no information about what the feds have sought. (Boston Herald

The New Bedford Police Department will review its database on police officer disciplinary action after revelations that an officer was mistakenly listed as having two sustained complaints against him for use of excessive force when he, in fact, had none. (New Bedford Light)