BOSTON, Mass. (SHNS)–Lawmakers advanced an annual bill Monday to provide cities and towns with $200 million in state borrowing for local road and bridge maintenance, in the process reshaping Gov. Maura Healey’s proposal and putting it in contention for a full House vote later this week.

The House-controlled Joint Transportation Committee rebuffed Healey’s push to approve $400 million for the Chapter 90 program over a two-year period, advancing a rewrite of her bill that features the same single-year, $200 million authorization that has been the status quo for most of the past decade-plus.

The committee also packed the legislation with $150 million more in grants that support bridge repairs, pavement, mass transit and electric vehicles. Such grants have become a regular feature of the Chapter 90 bill, winning legislative support and becoming law in each of the past two years.

Six programs would each receive injections of $25 million under the bill advanced on Monday: a municipal pavement program for state-numbered routes, the Small Bridge program, Complete Streets, a municipal bus enhancement program, a mass transit access program, and a program helping cities, towns and regional transit authorities purchase electric vehicles or build EV infrastructure.

City and town leaders have long sought a multi-year approach to Chapter 90 funding, arguing that long-term certainty about state reimbursements would allow them to better plan and budget for projects that require multiple years of work.

They have also been fighting for years for an increase in the amount of funding offered by Chapter 90, which is the primary program that reimburses municipalities for local road and bridge maintenance.

Massachusetts Municipal Association Legislative Director Dave Koffman said this month that in the 12 years since the Legislature first brought the annual authorization to $200 million, the sting of inflation has sanded its purchasing power down to the equivalent of $68.6 million.

MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith on Monday said the committee’s action on the bill “is a positive sign and a solid start,” even if the redraft no longer calls for authorizing two years’ worth of reimbursement.

Beckwith said state law requires the Department of Transportation to provide cities and towns with preliminary notices of funding authorizations by March 1, but those notices do not become official until the annual Chapter 90 bond bill wins approval and the governor’s signature. Municipalities cannot sign contracts for construction work using money in the new authorization or secure short-term loans until the bill becomes law, he said.

“We know that the Joint Committee on Transportation recognizes the need to enact a bill as soon as possible to allow communities to make full use of the construction season, which begins in earnest in April,” Beckwith said in a statement to the News Service.

“Ideally, Chapter 90 will return to multi-year authorizations at some point soon so that the Legislature doesn’t have to act on this issue every year,” he added. “Cities and towns look forward to continued engagement with their partners in the Legislature on increases in Chapter 90 funding to make up for rising construction costs and high inflation.”

Last year, the House approved its version of the Chapter 90 bill on March 30 and the Senate then waited more than two months to take it up. Former Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill on June 17.

If the full House and Senate embrace the Transportation Committee’s recommendation, it would represent the third straight year the Legislature has supplemented level-funding for the Chapter 90 program with $150 million in other transportation-related grants.

Transportation Committee Co-chair Rep. Straus pointed out the past practice earlier this month as municipal leaders lobbied for an increase in their road and bridge maintenance dollars, arguing that Chapter 90 is “not your major project program, and we shouldn’t pretend that it can become that.”

“No municipality in my view should be in a position where it’s taking four years of its Chapter 90 allocation, for which there are regular day-to-day demands, to fund a bridge repair,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said at a March 7 hearing. “That is why, imperfect it may be because of the dollar amounts, that is why you have seen the Legislature move to more project-specific grant programs as build-upon for Chapter 90.”

The committee’s favorable report — awarded unanimously, with only Sen. John Keenan of Quincy reserving his rights, according to Straus — could push the redrafted legislation (H 3546) forward for consideration in the House as soon as this week.
House Speaker Ron Mariano advised representatives late last week of a “potential” formal session Thursday without offering any details about what bills they should expect to consider.

Mariano’s office declined to comment Monday, when no major bills emerged during a lightly attended informal session, about his plans for the week. The House will meet again on Tuesday, when it could tee up legislation for later in the week.

Legislative leaders have kept another time-sensitive Healey bill, which sought investments in emergency shelter, school meals and food aid programs about to run out of capacity or funding, in limbo for more than a week.

Healey proposed creating an “offramp” to ease the impact on Bay Staters now that the federal government ended a pandemic-era expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The extra payments would provide an average boost of about $150 to a household’s normal benefit.

Jen Lemmerman, vice president of public policy at anti-hunger group Project Bread, said about one in five Massachusetts families are food insecure today.

“The SNAP emergency allotments, which are those increased benefits of about $150 a month on average, have been an absolute lifeline to those families,” Lemmerman said. “It’s been critical to the response throughout the course of the pandemic, and as other programs have scaled off, this has been one of the first lines of defense against rising rates of food insecurity.”

The Department of Transitional Assistance pays out those extra allotments — an average of about $150 on top of a household’s normal benefit — at the start of each month, and the final round went out the door on March 2.

That means that without action by the end of this month, families struggling with food insecurity could face a sudden drop in their aid when April begins.

“We are at a point right now where it’s really critical that this gets completed as soon as possible to mitigate any of the lag time and the gap that these recipients are going to see starting in just a couple of weeks,” Lemmerman said. “As soon as possible is really critical here.”

A spokesperson said DTA will work to issue state-funded SNAP supplements quickly once the legislative process is complete and anticipates the first payment flowing some time in April.

While both branches approved Healey’s proposed spending on SNAP, school meals and emergency shelter, the House and Senate bills (H 57 / S 23) took divergent approaches to grant matching funds and authorizing restaurants for another year of to-go beer, wine and cocktails.

Top Democrats have not moved to create a conference committee to hash out the differences or come up with a House-Senate accord through informal talks.

Via a spokesperson, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Sen. Michael Rodrigues declined to comment Monday about the approach to finishing that bill. A spokesperson for his counterpart, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, did not respond to inquiries Monday.