Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld said Monday he will propose about $30 million of state aid in his fiscal 1994 budget to ease the financial burden the Boston Harbor cleanup project has placed on water and sewer ratepayers.
The state has contributed $160 million for the cleanup since 1986, or roughly 4% of the amount spent, according to administration officials and a spokesman for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.
No decision has been made about whether the relief to be proposed in the budget will come as a tax credit or if direct subsidies will be paid to the MWRA, which has been ordered by the courts to fund the bulk of the $4.3 billion project.
At a press conference Monday, Weld said he prefers that Massachusetts residents receive the funds through a series of tax credits.
Authority officials said that if state aid goes directly to the MWRA, ratepayers' water and sewer bills would go up less than 10% in fiscal 1994, instead of the projected 18%.
The governor's announcement comes as public protests over water and sewer rates have reached the boiling point.
Last Saturday in Quincy, 500 Bay State residents staged a 1993 version of the Boston Tea Party, throwing mock sewer and water bills into the harbor. Earlier in the week, 300 people burned their monthly bills on the steps of Chelsea's municipal building.
The protests came after recent cost analyses placed water and sewer rates at over $2,000 per year by 2005. Currently, the average family pays MWRA $545 per year, the highest in the nation.
The harbor cleanup and the construction of the Deer Island Water Treatment plant have been 90% financed through the proceeds of $2.2 billion in municipal bonds.
Administrative sources said that no matter how much the state dedicates for this project, rocky roads still lie ahead for ratepayers.
"Make no mistake, there will still be rate increases," said Dominic Slowey, an administration spokesman. "What we are trying to do is make sure that the state pays a share. ratepayers pay a share, and the federal government pays a share."
Last month, President Clinton pledged $100 million for debt service relief for the harbor cleanup project. But several protest groups said the state would have to play a larger role to obtain more federal aid.
"The amount of money the governor has pledged is an absolute joke," said Donald Jordan, head of Stop This Outrageous Project, or STOP, a water and sewer rate protest group in the state. "The governor reacted to the pressure instead of acting."
Jordan's group planned to hold a press conference last night and call on Weld to dedicate 1% or $150 million per year for the next 10 years for the harbor project.
"Without a commitment like that, we can forget about increased federal dollars," he said. Jordan said he would prefer the funds to be doled out to ratepayers via tax relief instead of paid directly to the MWRA.
Slowey said he was uncertain what Weld will decide on the allocations, but that senior members of the administration were split "pretty much down the middle."
The administrative spokesman said the timing of the announcement was not tied to any of the protests in the state.
"The announcement was not a response to the public outcry," Slowey said. "The governor has been thinking about doing something for the last three months."
Weld's plan differs from those of the protest groups. If a tax credit is given, it would be for the whole state and not just those affected by the MWRA cleanup.
Slowey said ongoing water and sewer projects in New Bedford and Salem would also benefit from Weld's plan.