Supplemental state budget would ensure timely payments to plows clearing state roads
As the state copes with Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget cuts, snowplow drivers may have scored a victory in a dispute with the state highway department over prompt payment.
On the same day that Patrick outlined a $900 million chop in state spending, a 10-page supplemental budget released by the governor’s office authorized MassHighway to spend up to $80 million “to accommodate (plow drivers) for timing discrepancies and the availability of funds.”
Last winter’s heavy snowfall cost the state $67.7 million for snow removal — $43.7 million more than originally budgeted.
A spring supplemental budget to compensate the contracted drivers added that $43.7 million to the $24 million originally allocated.
But the contract did not include a guarantee of payment within 30 days.
Now, the $80 million in supplemental money would be used to guarantee prompt payment for this winter’s bill to prevent another deficit.
Before Patrick submitted the $80 million request, none of the Massachusetts Snow and Ice Removal Association’s members in the southeastern Massachusetts district had signed the contract to plow state roads this winter.
However, it’s not a done deal yet.
A spokesman for Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said Patrick’s supplemental request must be approved by the Legislature in a formal session.
If not, Ann Crothers, vice president of the snowplow driver’s association said the contract reached between the highway department and plow owners would be considered null and void.
“The only problem that seems to exist right now is that the legislators need to get the bill passed to make sure that we get paid promptly,” said Crothers. “We don’t want a situation like last year, where drivers went unpaid for months and some even faced foreclosures on their houses.”
Brad Ness, a Stoughton plow owner and official with the association, said it would be impossible for MassHighway to keep major roads passable without full assistance from his association’s members.
“They’d be done,” said Ness, who owns five plows that service the busy Route 24 corridor between Raynham and Interstate 93/Route 128.
Ness said he would likely still plow if lawmakers don’t approve the supplemental budget, but he can’t speak for every driver.
“We signed this year’s contract with the stipulation that it goes through,” said Ness. “If it doesn’t, some guys are simply not going to be able to afford the cost to go out there.