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Downing: Senate Engrosses Municipal Modernization Bill with Downing Transportation Finance Amendment
July 13, 2016

BOSTON Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts State Senate today engrossed comprehensive legislation to modernize municipal finance and governance laws in Massachusetts, including provisions to eliminate or update obsolete laws, promote local independence, streamline state oversight and provide greater flexibility for cities and towns.

The bill eliminates or updates obsolete laws that no longer serve a meaningful purpose, including the repeal of county government finance reporting requirements and changes to the civil motor vehicle infraction law to allow cities and towns to issue citations electronically.

During debate, the Senate adopted a Downing amendment which would empower cities and towns to place a question on the ballot for approval by the voters to institute a local tax surcharge to fund local and regional transportation projects.

“This amendment gives cities and towns the ability control their transportation future,” said Senator Downing. “In the communities that choose to use it, residents will determine at the local level, the subject, amount, and use of the transportation dollars raised. This process will ensure that tax dollars are spent in a way that most directly benefits each citizen and the infrastructure in their region.”

In the face of declining federal support, and mounting costs to maintain and expand infrastructure, states across the country have looked to local ballot initiatives to raise revenue at the municipal or regional level. These initiatives have proven effective at raising funds for local projects that have a direct impact on the lives of those who pay for them. Because of this, transportation ballot initiatives nationwide had a 70% approval rate in 2014, a trend that has been consistent since 2000.

The legislation further promotes local autonomy for cities and towns, allowing for more control over certain funding decisions and local regulations. For example, the bill allows municipalities to enter into joint powers agreements to provide services regionally and reduces the state’s role in regulating on-premise liquor license quotas.

It also streamlines state oversight of many tax collection procedures to make the process more transparent and predictable for local officials.

Finally, the bill takes steps to provide municipalities with greater flexibility, including a study on double utility poles, changes to procurement laws to simplify, clarify and increase thresholds for construction contracts and updates to the way municipalities use parking revenues, to allow for use on a wide range of transportation-related issues.

A conference committee will now resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

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