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.

“That is the message that’s causing the House to think about the timing of when they take up what otherwise looks like a rush to judgment on a gas tax bill,” said Anderson, prior to the House’s announcement.

But Anderson’s call for putting off action is not the High Tech Council’s end game. Saying the Massachusetts economy is strong and state revenues are surging – up $2 billion this fiscal year and up 60 percent over the last 10 years – Anderson sees little need for any transportation revenue package at all.

“The question is, do we have a shortage of revenue or do we have some other impediment that’s getting in the way of efficient delivery of real solutions?” Anderson said. “We believe we don’t have a revenue problem, given the stats that I just cited.”

Anderson focused most of his ire on a gas tax increase, but he is also opposed to other revenue measures on the table, including increased tolling and higher fees on rideshares. “I don’t think we have a revenue challenge. I’m not sure why certain advocates are pushing revenue solutions,” he said.

And Anderson makes clear that hiking the cost of driving to discourage people from driving is a nonstarter.  “If the argument or logic is now shifting, from we need more money to create more solutions, to we want to create a higher cost to change people’s behavior, I think that’s going to run into a buzz saw,” he said.

Anderson’s other major critique of the pro-tax forces is that they call for all sorts of tax and fee increases without any specific plan on how to spend the new money. “Let’s not keep adding taxes for the sake of appeasing those who say we need more tax revenue and tricking the people behind the wheel into thinking that that extra gas tax is going to shorten their commute. Not by a long shot,” he said.

Yet Anderson has no problem with the transportation climate initiative, which he describes as a “wholesale tax on gas.” He says the transportation climate initiative is preferable to a straight gas tax increase because the initiative is an attempt to coordinate action among all thye northeastern states and the money is targeted at reducing carbon emissions.

“When any advocate of a new tax is asked, what are you going to use the money for, there’s a million different answers,” he said. “With the multistate tax, there’s one answer. We support that. With all these other issues, there’s no real plan.”

Still, the transportation climate initiative is not much of a plan, either. Baker has pledged that half of the money from the initiative will go to public transit and the MBTA, but he hasn’t said anything about what the money would be used for and he hasn’t said anything about where the rest of the money would go.

Anderson agreed many questions remain about the transportation climate initiative, which is why it will be some time before the details of how it will work will be known. The transportation climate initiative is not expected to be running before 2022, and many believe it could take much longer.

Overall, the bottom line for Anderson is steady, incremental improvements on transportation and the MBTA – without raising taxes. “The risk here is that overshooting, overtaxing without a plan to support it helps create conditions that move Massachusetts closer to Connecticut or New Jersey-like environments that become more costly to do business in with very little improvement to show for it,” he said. “We’re trying to prevent Massachusetts from becoming Connecticut.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

The auditing firm hired to investigate problems at the Registry of Motor Vehicles won’t release some records from interviews it conducted without a court order, a stance that is frustrating lawmakers trying to unpack what went wrong at the agency. (Boston Globe

Massachusetts lawmakers reached a compromise on a distracted driving bill, but details have not been released yet. (MassLive)

With a floor vote scheduled for Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Ways and Means is preparing a bill banning single-use plastic bags statewide and attaching a 10-cent fee to paper carryout bags. (WGBH) 

Sen. Marc Pacheco says he secured a commitment from Senate President Karen Spilka that the Senate will take up a climate bill in January. (Herald News) 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Marian Sullivan, the 27-year-old communications director for Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, is arrested at MGM Resorts for allegedly vandalizing vehicles in the parking garage. Sarno suspended Sullivan after hearing the news. (MassLive)

Joe Kennedy III says the state should reopen its review of an electric substation proposed for East Boston, a community already swamped with more than its share of environmental burdens. (CommonWealth)

Marshfield voters will have to decide if the town can raise taxes for 30 years in order to pay off a total of $49.8 million in capital projects that would build a new police station, department of public works barn and sea walls. (Patriot Ledger) 

Perry Chaffee rented out rooms in a 136-year-old stone building in Lowell’s Belvidere neighborhood, but the 15,000-square-foot home is zoned single-family and the city said he can’t do that, so now he’s vacating the house where he and seven others lived. (Lowell Sun

Developer Beverly Crossing is backtracking from its controversial plan to raze the historic Casa de Lucca, and will instead preserve the structure, which was built as a hotel. (Salem News

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited President Trump to testify in the impeachment inquiry that the president derides as a sham. (Associated Press

Seventy percent of Americans think President Trump was wrong in his actions toward Ukraine, and a slim majority believe he should be removed from office for them, according to a new poll by ABC News and Ipsos

ELECTIONS

Billionaires are aghast at Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, providing more ammunition for her populist campaign against economic growing inequality. (Boston Globe) The Massachusetts business class, albeit with some exceptions, seems to be on a anyone-but-Warren (or Sanders) trajectory when it comes to selecting a Democratic nominee. (Boston Globe) But Politico reports on some deep-pocketed Bay State political types who are with Warren and are helping her tap the “donor class.” 

The New York Times works through the long story of how Warren came to embrace Medicare-for-All, starting with her research at Harvard on the impact of health care costs on family bankruptcies. 

Deval Patrick won’t discourage super PACs from helping his days-old campaign, telling “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, “we need to do some catchup.” (Boston Globe

The first question in the Wall Street Journal weekly news quiz asked whether Patrick most recently worked at A) Harvard, B) Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, C) Blackstone Group, or D) Bain Capital. The correct answer was D, but B caught our eye because MassINC is the non-profit think tank that publishes CommonWealth.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Researcher Luc Schuster says the state is grappling with two — not one — housing crises. (CommonWealth) Amy Dain provides an answer to the question of where badly needed new housing should go. (CommonWealth)

EDUCATION

Low-income students in well-off suburbs are only half as likely to graduate from college as their better-off peers, showing that suburban schools are no panacea for the achievement gap. (Boston Globe)

The UMass Amherst Foundation, which raises money for the school, keeps the salaries and other information about employees confidential. (MassLive)

Richard Safier is retiring as superintendent of Gloucester Public Schools, a position he has held since 2011. (Gloucester Daily Times

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

President Trump is reversing course on his earlier vow to ban flavored e-cigarettes, fearing a backlash from vape shop owners and users in next year’s election. (Washington Post) A Taunton lawyer has filed suit in federal court Boston accusing e-cigarette giant Juul of using deceptive marketing practices that caused a 24-year-old man to develop a severe nicotine addiction. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

David White  buys the abandoned and dilapidated Connecticut River Railroad Station in Holyoke for $10,000. He doesn’t know what to do with building, designed by famed architect H. H. Richardson, but he says he wants to restore it. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The Herald continues to pump up the idea of turning the Hynes Convention Center into a performing arts venue, with columnist Jaclyn Cashman taking up the cause, writing “Boston deserves its own Lincoln Center.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler of Worcester receives an award for supporting the arts at the Women in Government Summit. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION 

MBTA union official Timothy Lasker says the transit authority’s chief labor negotiator (who resigned last week after a WCVB report showed him drinking at bars during the work week this summer) highlight a double standard at the agency. (CommonWealth)

The MBTA took out a full-page ad in Monday’s print editions of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald  to provide updates on improvements/repairs being made to the subway, bus and commuter rail lines.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Parallel Products’ proposed waste facility in New Bedford would slow the movement of traffic only slightly, and would meet state standards for noise, air quality and odor, according to a new draft report. (Standard-Times) 

CASINOS

Latest financial reports from the state provide more ominous signs for the state’s gambling facilities. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The New York Times digs into the case against District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, who has signaled that she will risk a trial on federal charges related to aiding a defendant elude arrest in Newton District Court by ICE rather than accept a plea deal. 

State officials acknowledged that the temporary closure of Malden District Court last month was prompted by health complaints among those who work in the building. (Boston Globe)