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Legislators to Gov. Patrick: Release the money! pressure building to get $300M in roadway funding to cities and towns

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick delivers his State of the State address in the House Chambers at the Statehouse in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick delivers his State of the State address in the House Chambers at the Statehouse in Boston, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Purchase photo reprints »

After approving a 50-percent boost in state Chapter 90 road money for communities this year, to a total of $300 million, area legislators say they are trying to push Gov. Deval Patrick — who first proposed the increase — to release the money.

“We felt it was very high priority in the Legislature to increase it,” state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, told members of the Franklin County Selectmen’s Association last week. “For the past several months, we’ve been in a battle between the Legislature and the governor over fully funding Chapter 90.”

Kulik, the House Ways and Means vice-chairman, said that Gov. Deval Patrick three weeks ago announced he would not release the additional money because he does not think the state can afford it after the Legislature failed to approve the funding package he had called for.

“It was a big blow to the cities and towns. It’s a big blow to us, because we know the money is there to support this,” Kulik said. “This is an issue of the governor not prioritizing the local road program. You have lists in each of your towns. You know what projects need to happen, you can make them happen quickly, so you can put people to work, invest in the local economy and improve your roads and bridges. We think it’s inexcusable for the governor not to support the $300 million.”

Although the Legislature and governor together authorize capital expenditures, it’s up to the governor to release the money, he said.

Kulik said this represents “a fundamental disagreement” between Patrick and the Legislature, which overrode the governor’s veto of its budget this year over disagreements over how it would be funded.

Patrick’s office did not return a phone call to comment on Chapter 90 funding.

The Chapter 90 program, funded as part of the state’s transportation bond, is the source of money that many smaller towns use to pay for large road projects on eligible roads, and also to pay for the bulk of their highway projects.

“We’re trying to keep the pressure on,” said Kulik, although he said it was too late in the current road construction season to use the money, “so the battle will be taken up again in the spring,” and seek $400 million in the budget for the budget year beginning next July 1, “$300 million for next year and the $100 million he didn’t put out this year.”

At least one Select Board member at Thursday’s annual dinner meeting, held in South Deerfield, said that the state money is key to getting projects done in his town. Robert Dean of the Buckland Select Board said his town has a list of road projects worth $3 million to $5 million and usually gets about $180,000 a year. That should be $270,000 given the approved funding, if it were released by the governor.

Later, Tom Philbin, senior legislative analyst for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, told the gathering that after the Legislature refused to give Patrick the $1.9 billion in additional revenue that he sought for transportation and education funding, “It was really this sort of gun to the head of the Legislature on this. We’re going to cut your priority programs because you didn’t raise enough money for my education programs.”

Philbin said the state actually has an additional $6 billion to spend on capital projects because of the tax increases that the Legislature approved, including hikes in the gasoline and cigarette tax.

Even with the repeal of a computer services tax, Kulik said, a better-than-expected state revenue picture should translate into no budget cuts being needed this year.

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