‘Not a very rosy picture.’ Western Mass. needs more attention and transportation funds, state auditor says
“It’s not a very rosy picture, quite frankly,” Bump told reporters Monday at a briefing. “We need this type of investment to reverse the trend of declining property values, declining population. Make trading easier. . . . The tourism economy will only take the region so far. And not everyone can work at Berkshire Medical Center.
Bump is releasing the report as she prepares to testify Tuesday before lawmakers assessing how to spend nearly $ 5 billion in stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The Democrat, a former resident of Great Barrington, presented it as an opportunity to build a “rural bailout” to meet the broader transportation and infrastructure needs of western Massachusetts. She also painted a sometimes disastrous picture of the 101 towns and villages in the region: a community with a fire station with no running water, crumbling roads, and public buildings that “if they were in private hands, might well be. condemned, ”she declared.
Bump specifically pointed to the Pittsfield Police Station, using a lackluster photo from her booking office which she said served as the location for filmmakers seeking to capture a “decrepit police station from the 1940s and 1950s.” Local lawmakers told the Berkshire Eagle this week that the county is likely to lose one of its four seats at Massachusetts House due to population decline, diluting its influence in State House.
The key to the region’s need is transportation assistance. Bump’s report says Governor Charlie Baker can unilaterally change the way the state distributes local funding for roads to give more weight to the number of kilometers of roads a city or town has, and less to its population and its employment levels.
The current formula, according to the report, strongly favors Boston and other urban centers at the expense of other western communities, some of which depend primarily, if not entirely, on so-called Chapter 90 funds to repair potholes. or repair rickety bridges.
As a result, Suffolk County, which includes Boston, received $ 12,169 per mile in the previous fiscal year, while Berkshire County’s 32 towns and villages averaged about $ 4,596 per mile to cover its nearly 950 square miles. The 26 towns in Franklin County averaged even less, at about $ 4,383 per mile, according to the report released by the Local Auditor’s Mandates Division.
Under current law, each of the state’s 351 municipalities is reimbursed for local project funding based on three factors: local road mileage (58.33%), population (20.83%) and employment (20.83%). It’s a formula that, according to Bump’s report, has not been updated since the program was implemented in the early 1970s.
Bump argues that the Baker administration can change the formula without legislative approval, and advocates using one proposed by State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a Democrat from Lenox, which would change the distribution of highway mileage to nearly by 70%. (A MassDOT official said the formula can only be changed by legislation.)
The change would have consequences. Under this proposed formula, Boston alone would lose about $ 1.4 million a year in public funding to help maintain its busy streets and sidewalks, according to the report. That’s nearly 10 percent of the $ 14.7 million he received the previous year, according to state data. Meanwhile, 31 of Berkshire County’s 32 communities would see their allocations increase.
To make up for any loss, Bump suggests the legislature should spend $ 300 million each year in the Chapter 90 fund, a 50% jump from the $ 200 million it has received in recent years. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents towns and cities, pushed for a similar increase.
Bump, who is not seeking re-election for a fourth term next year, said the report was “intended from the outset” to expose disparities between the eastern and western regions of the state .
“Now we have this golden opportunity that we will never again finally invest in these communities,” she said.
Road funds are an annual point of debate in the legislature and a lifeline upon which many communities in western Massachusetts depend heavily. According to a survey by Bump’s office of more than 40 communities, on average, about 63 percent of their road funding came directly from the state.
Meanwhile, Springfield – by far the region’s largest community and the state’s third largest city – estimated it would need at least $ 12 million a year to maintain its 1,110 miles of pavement. Yet it relies entirely on state funding, which has provided around $ 3.6 million in Chapter 90 funds each year since 2016.
“This funding disparity is leading to the collapse of roads in western Massachusetts due to lack of maintenance; y decreases the quality of transport networks; and reduced quality of life due to the challenges of moving people, services and goods, ”the report reads.
Matt Stout can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout.