$153m in Mass. stimulus fund jobs to go out to bid

Associated Press | 3/11/2009, 6:38 a.m.

      $153m in Mass. stimulus fund jobs to go out to bid

      Gov. Deval Patrick announced last Friday that $153 million in “shovel-ready” transportation projects funded by federal stimulus money will move forward within next four months.

      Patrick announced that the projects would go out for bid in the next 120 days.

      It’s not yet known which eligible projects will be funded by this first allotment of the $438 million in federal highway stimulus money the state is set to receive.

      The state said the jobs would be chosen from all regions, and move ahead based on project readiness and the Patrick administration’s priorities.

      The money is part of the $8.4 billion in the federal stimulus package for the repair and construction of the country’s public transportation infrastructure.

      Economic woes halt plans for UMass science center

      LOWELL — The credit crunch has put the brakes on a $90 million science center planned for the Lowell campus of the University of Massachusetts.

      Officials said last Friday that the university’s building authority has been unable to borrow the $35 million needed to begin construction on The Emerging Technology and Innovation Center. The research facility was expected to boost the regional economy by creating up to 500 jobs and launching start-up technology firms.

      UMass-Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan said he wasn’t giving up on the project and would lobby for money from the federal stimulus package or other alternative sources of funding.

      The center would be the first new academic building on the Lowell campus in more than three decades.

      Patrick: Quick tax OK could avoid new toll hikes

      SALEM — Gov. Deval Patrick said he hopes lawmakers will act soon enough on his proposed 19-cent gas tax increase to avoid raising tolls at the end of this month.

      The Daily Item newspaper of Lynn reported that Patrick made the comments last Thursday at the Salem Public Library during one of a series of public meetings on transportation.

      State Rep. John Keenan of Salem asked Patrick to delay the toll hike and give lawmakers three months to review his reform package, including the gas tax hike. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has said the toll increase could be rolled back if there were a tax increase.

      Patrick said the Turnpike needs more money this month to avoid financial problems.

      The governor acknowledged that doubling tolls on Boston harbor tunnels to $7 will be tough on North Shore commuters.

      Fed memo questions privatizing state lotteries

      A Justice Department memorandum challenges the legality of privatizing state lotteries, an idea that state Treasurer Timothy Cahill believes could help Massachusetts raise revenue to eliminate deficits.

      The October federal ruling requires states to maintain “actual control over all significant business decisions made by the lottery enterprise.”

      While the memo allows states to contract with private firms for goods and services necessary to conduct their lotteries, it says states should not release anything more than a minimum of the equity share.

      Cahill said last Wednesday that Massachusetts could reap $1 billion immediately by auctioning off the lottery’s management. He estimated it could also get $900 million more from a revenue-sharing arrangement.

      A Cahill spokeswoman said his proposal is in line with the federal opinion since it calls for the state to maintain control of major business decisions.

      Mass. to get $320M in stimulus for public transit

      Massachusetts is set to receive nearly $320 million in federal stimulus money for public transportation projects.

      The money is part of the $8.4 billion in the stimulus package for the repair and construction of the country’s public transportation infrastructure.

      The public transit money is the latest chunk of money heading to the state from the bill.

      Sens. John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy announced last week that $438 million has already been released to Massachusetts for the state’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects, including renewable energy initiatives.

      The senators also said that 71 Massachusetts cities and towns will share $345 million for housing programs under the stimulus program.

      Mass. disabled activists say access may be denied

      Advocates for the disabled are upset that construction projects in Massachusetts paid for with federal stimulus money may not be handicapped accessible.

      The governor’s task force on federal stimulus funding, which helped identify billions of dollars in “shovel-ready projects,” suggested that the state forego reviews of the need for handicapped accessibility to prevent delays.

      Bill Allan, executive director of the Disability Policy Consortium, an organization of volunteer disability rights activists, calls it a “slap in the face.”

      The Boston Globe reported that activists are threatening legal action. An administration spokeswoman says the goal is to make projects accessible.

      Mass. insurance head pledges new protections

      Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner Nonnie S. Burnes is planning to recommend new auto insurance rules that she says will address concerns raised by consumers.

      Burnes said the new rules will focus on at-fault accident designations and will reflect the state’s commitment to protect car owners.

      The state Division of Insurance Board of Appeal, which hears about 50,000 surcharge cases annually, is scheduled to be dissolved April 1 as part of the state’s transition to a “managed competition” insurance system. Critics say that will leave no recourse for motorists who believe they have been given surcharges unfairly.

      Burnes says the new system has been a success, but the state needs to ensure that consumers experience all the benefits of the competitive market system.

      (Associated Press)