Sharp split on need for new transpo revenues

WITH 17 PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT, a recession, and a global pandemic, does Massachusetts need to be raising more money right now to fix the state’s ailing transportation system?

“Clearly the Legislature needs to be thoughtful and considerate in a time when so many folks are struggling about raising revenue, but if we’re not making investments in transportation then we’re not going to have that full and vibrant economy recovery we all want,” said Chris Dempsey, director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a transportation advocacy group that has been leading the push for more revenue.

But John Regan, president and CEO of the business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts, disagrees. “With the economy in such a state of flux, with state finances so far in a state of confusion…adding even modest new revenue to the equation right now is not prudent,” Regan said.

On this week’s Codcast, Dempsey and Regan both agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way they saw the state’s transportation needs. But they disagreed on virtually everything else, from whether new transportation revenue is needed to what types of revenues are worth looking at. Their debate mirrors the one happening on Beacon Hill, with a slight twist. On Beacon Hill, the business-friendly House in February passed a $600 million transportation revenue bill and the Senate, which is generally considered more liberal, this month said it would not take it up, due to the pandemic. The Senate passed a $17 billion transportation bond bill, but the House says that is too large without new revenues.