State likely to allocate less money for road, bridge repairs

BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 26: House Speaker Robert DeLeo speaks during a press briefing at the State House on February 26, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

BOSTON –  House leaders are preparing a $1.1 billion spending bill to cover COVID-19 response costs while also walking back their earlier support for an increase in road and bridge maintenance funding amid stalled tax-raising talks and a budget crunch prompted by the pandemic.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday began polling its version of Gov. Charlie Baker’s $1 billion legislation (H 4707), which he filed in May and said would allow the state to secure federal reimbursement for all of the spending included.

House leaders added 17 more pages and $100 million to the bill, outlining specific spending requirements that in Baker’s bill were either not clearly defined, such as $350 million for personal protective equipment, or altogether not included, such as $20 million for housing aid.

The House committee also asked its members whether they support legislation allocating $200 million to the Chapter 90 program that reimburses cities and towns each year for the costs of local road and bridge repairs.

In March, the House included language in an $18 billion bond bill directing $300 million toward the program, but House leaders since then have expressed skepticism about whether they can afford the additional investment if the Senate does not take up a package of tax and fee increases that it has left untouched for months.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s office instructed members last week to be prepared to vote during a Wednesday formal session on the supplemental spending bill, and it is not yet clear if the Chapter 90 bill will also emerge for a vote on the same day.