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Anderson: No revenue shortage for transportation

For the Massachusetts High Technology Council, blocking a transportation revenue package is a two-step process.

The first step, which proved successful last week, was convincing House leaders to put off any action on a revenue package until next year. Chris Anderson, president of the council, argued on the CommonWealth Codcast that delaying action at least until January will give lawmakers more time to better understand the state’s revenue and political picture.

Specifically, Anderson said, the extra time will give the Legislature a chance to pass Gov. Charlie Baker’s $18 billion transportation bond bill and to determine whether the transportation climate initiative, a multistate effort to place a charge on the carbon contained in automobile fuels, is likely to become a reality any time soon. Anderson also said a delay gives lawmakers a better chance to assess the political fallout of raising the gas tax.

Monica Bharel, realistic optimist

Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, is definitely a glass-half-full type of person.

On the Health or Consequences edition of the Codcast with Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School and John McDonough of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Bharel went through a series of major challenges facing her agency and in each instance ended her discussion on an optimistic note.

On vaping, Bharel expressed confidence that her agency’s ban on all vaping products was the wise course to follow while health officials determine what is causing a strange new type of pulmonary disease. She said her other top priority with vaping products is getting them out of the hands of young people – she says 40 percent of high school students have vaped and 20 percent do so regularly. She says e-cigarettes are not safe, as many young people believe, and flavored e-cigs should be taken off the market.

Biz officials: New transportation funds needed

The derailment on the Red Line in June may have been a turning point.

After Gov. Charlie Baker visited the crash site, he decided it was time to accelerate repairs on the MBTA and greenlight more shutdowns of the system to speed up projects. The derailment also galvanized the debate over new transportation revenues – for the MBTA and the state as a whole.

The state’s business organizations weighed in last week on the new revenue issue. Several wanted no part of a tax increase and there was scattered consensus on what taxes or fees to raise among those calling for additional transportation revenues. But Jim Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, and long-time government analyst Michael Widmer said on the CommonWealth Codcast that the derailment and continuing problems with the T have helped build a case for additional funding.

MassINC Insights

This week on The Codcast, we bring you an episode of MassINC Insights, the first installment in a series of conversations with the journalists, researchers, and pollsters of MassINC, The MassINC Polling Group and CommonWealth. The nonprofit consistently leads the way in producing nonpartisan research and independent reporting that make serious waves in the Bay State. And today, we’re pulling back the curtain on the organization, asking our talented team about the transportation funding debate, what to watch out for, and why.

Ex-rep: DeLeo told me, vote for transpo bill or lose chairmanship

Jay Kaufman, the former state rep from Lexington, remembers a conversation he had with House Speaker Robert DeLeo the last time the Legislature considered raising taxes to pay for transportation.

It was 2013, the morning before the House vote on a bill that would raise the gas tax 3 cents, index that tax to inflation (later rescinded by voters), jack up tobacco taxes, and impose a tax (later jettisoned by lawmakers) on some computer software services.

Kaufman, who was the chair of the Revenue Committee, said he didn’t think that tax package would provide enough new revenue to meet the transportation system’s needs. But he said DeLeo told him that if he voted against the bill he would lose his chairmanship of the Revenue Committee.

“He made it very clear to me that my options were to vote for it or not be part of any conversation going forward,” Kaufman said. “He said, ‘If you can’t vote for this, I can’t have you as part of my team.’”

Kaufman wanted to remain in control of the Revenue Committee to ultimately usher in a progressive system of income taxation in the state, so he says he went along with the speaker’s request. But now, after not seeking reelection last year and with another transportation revenue bill poised to come up for consideration, Kaufman decided to speak out on the Codcast.

BONUS EPISODE: Pollster explores commuter rail survey

Richard Parr, the research director of the MassINC Polling Group, said he was surprised at the strong support in a statewide, online poll for regional rail and a number of other ambitious transportation initiatives, including an underground rail link connecting North and South Stations. The most popular initiative was transitioning the commuter rail fleet from diesel to electric power. The poll also found support for a number of initiatives to fund regional rail, including a surtax on millionaires, proceeds from putting a price on the carbon content of automobile fuels, and regional ballot questions. Jim Aloisi and Josh Fairchild of TransitMatters, who interviewed Parr, pointed out that the poll numbers indicated less support for hikes in more straightforward taxes such as the gas tax. Aloisi, for example, noted more than two-thirds of those polled opposed raising the gas tax to pay for regional rail while roughly the same percentage were open to funding regional rail by putting a price on the carbon in auto fuels. Aloisi said those two numbers are inconsistent because the impact on drivers is basically the same. What does it mean? “People want everything and they want someone else to pay for it,” Aloisi said.

Suffolk sheriff explains decision to cancel ICE ties

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins insists his decision to sever ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement had nothing to do with protests, and everything to do whether the people in his jail’s cells are destined to remain in the state.                   

“I was hired to do local, not federal, work. The ICE population is transient — they’re not staying here,” Tompkins said on CommonWealth’s Codcast. “But the ladies we’re going to service, they either live in my county or the Commonwealth. They’re staying here. They have kids. They have families. We want them to go back home in better shape than they arrived.”

For over 16 years, the Suffolk County sheriff’s office had a contract with ICE to place detained immigrants in beds at the South Bay House of Correction. The arrangement has stirred protests ever since President Trump came into office with his strong stance against immigrants in this country illegally. Eighteen Jewish activists were arrested at a rally this summer.

Tompkins announced two weeks ago he was ending his contract with ICE and will use the newly available space to bring in women detainees who other counties were planning to send to the state women’s prison in Framingham.

Clark backs supervised drug injection sites

Congresswoman Katherine Clark supports the idea of opening facilities where people can use illegal drugs under medical supervision to prevent overdose fatalities and refer people to treatment for drug addiction when they are ready.

“These sites, in particular, if it is saving some lives, if it is allowing us to have the intervention to stop this cycle before a person does lose their life to an overdose, that’s a piece of this puzzle that we have to be open to and figure out,” said Clark.

Support for supervised drug injection sites has grown since US District Court Judge Gerald McHugh ruled earlier this month that a provision of the Controlled Substances Act aimed at closing crack houses did not apply to a proposed supervised injection site in Philadelphia. 

“No credible argument can be made that facilities such as safe injection sites were within the contemplation of Congress” when the initial drug law was adopted in 1986 or when it was amended in 2003, McHugh ruled.

But here in Massachusetts, US Attorney Andrew Lelling has not been dissuaded by the federal court decision. He said he would use his prosecutorial powers to prevent any supervised injection sites from opening.

In  a wide-ranging interview on CommonWealth’s Codcast, Clark also talked about her work on a bill  dubbed the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act, which would take a number of different approaches to empower the victims of workplace sexual harassment and try to curb the type of predation made infamous by the torrent of #metoo stories over the past two years.

T control board’s stance on revenues evolving

Seven months ago the MBTA’s oversight board indicated it was going to weigh in on whether the Legislature should explore new transportation funding initiatives, but since then there’s been nothing.

Joe Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the timing was not right back then. But soon it will be, he says, pointing out that there have been some new developments on the revenue front. Aiello also says the board is likely to lay out options for the Legislature rather than recommend anything specific, perhaps because of Gov. Charlie Baker’s continued opposition to new revenues.

The focus in March was on capital spending, but a series of initiatives (Red and Orange Line overhauls, South Coast Rail, and Green Line extension) all come on line in the next five years and new expenses (pension liabilities and family and medical leave costs) are putting upward pressure on the T’s operating budget.

The other big unknown is the cost of a commuter rail makeover. The T is reviewing a series of options for commuter rail, and there is growing support on the board for an all-day, electrified, subway-like system. Aiello says the board is likely to make a decision about the future of commuter rail in November, and the long-term cost could be substantial.

“But we don’t have two cents to rub together to get that done,” Aiello said. “If, in fact, that is also something that Beacon Hill views as something important to continue to support the economy and the environment here, that’s an increment that is significant enough that we need to get that data out in public as quickly as possible. “

BMC chief backs Medicaid for all

Kate Walsh says she favors Medicaid for all, not Medicare for all.

It’s not a political slogan you hear much these days, but Walsh, the president and CEO of Boston Medical Center, has a unique perspective since so many of her hospital’s patients are on Medicaid.

“I actually think Medicaid is the most important insurance plan in the country,” she said, noting that it covers roughly 79 million mostly poor and elderly Americans and provides them with coverage for long-term care, medicine, behavioral health, and substance abuse. Every state offers Medicaid, so there is opportunity for local customization of insurance offerings.