Baker increasingly isolated on transportation taxes

Gov. Charlie Baker finds himself increasingly isolated on Beacon Hill with his opposition to new revenues for transportation.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka are both open to raising additional revenues for transportation and the two chairs of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, in an interview on the CommonWealth Codcast, said new money is desperately needed.

Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett said his first priority this session is developing a revenue package with money dedicated for transportation along with a list of spending priorities for the future. He said lawmakers don’t like to increase taxes, so the revenue option chosen will be “the one people hate the least.”

“For me,” he said, “it’s hard to see the kind of revenue in the kinds of numbers we’re talking – hundreds of millions of dollars – that isn’t built at least as a core component of a gas tax change.” He said raising the gas tax is efficient and relatively straightforward, with each penny increase in the tax raising $35 million a year.

Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop offered up an almost direct response to the governor, who said last week that “I don’t believe that raising taxes is the answer to this problem at this point in time. I think the answer is to pursue the strategies that we’ve proposed, which as I said is the largest investment the Commonwealth has made in any five-year period outside of the Big Dig.”

“I think money is the answer,” said Boncore, who called the 3 cent increase in the gas tax approved in 2013 insufficient. The Legislature in 2013 also indexed the gas tax, allowing it to rise with inflation, but that part of the law was repealed as part of a referendum campaign backed by Baker.

Boncore said the state needed to be bolder in 2013. “We’re seeing a system now that’s failing because of a lack of investment back then. So I think it’s crucial and incumbent on us to make the investment now,” he said.

The senator also said the Legislature cannot go with just the most palatable revenue option. “I hope there’s more than one answer here,” he said.  “We need a multipronged approach.”

Boncore said everything is on the table, including new taxes, user fees, new tolls, and congestion tolling.  “Our roads are a public use in the Commonwealth. They’re well underpriced, creating a shortage in them. And simple economics says when there’s a shortage of a good we run out of it and that’s clearly what’s happened. We’ve run out of road,” he said. “By pricing our roads accordingly we can use our roads more efficiently.”

The governor has said additional revenue isn’t needed for the MBTA because the transit authority will have a hard time spending the $8 billion in capital funds he has set aside. Straus doesn’t buy that argument. “If that’s a way of saying I need more staff resources, tell us that,” the representative said.

Straus noted the Baker administration has disclosed in government filings that state spending on roads and bridges is not sufficient to keep them in a state of good repair. If that’s the case, he said, the Baker administration by its own admission needs to spend more.

The governor is even getting pushback from his own appointees to the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board. The control board recently approved a fare increase that will take effect July 1, and two of the five members called on the Legislature to increase the cost of other modes of travel (by raising the gas tax, imposing new tolls, or assessing higher fees on ride-hailing apps) to generate additional revenue and incentivize people to use the T. The full board is now trying to craft a joint policy statement on the need for additional money.

“The transportation system in this Commonwealth is in a pretty bad state of disrepair,” Boncore said.

“Probably the best you can say is the system functions, but clearly it doesn’t function well,” said Straus, who pointed out that his personal commute to Beacon Hill from Mattapoisett has increased from 75 minutes in the 1990s to more than two hours today. “It’s nearly doubled and some days it is doubled. I see that and everyone out there who comes into the city for work or recreation, whatever, sees those issues. It’s not just the time. It’s more and more of each day is crowded with the traffic jams coming in and going out.”

Straus said the public is demanding action. “I have been amazed over the last couple of years at how patient and tolerant the public has been about this problem,” he said. “We just have to address it this session.”

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

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A domestic violence bill is expected to be filed at the state house by state Sen. Patrick O’Connor in the coming days. The bill seeks to provide “aggressive protection” for anyone facing domestic violence, according to The Patriot Ledger.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Globe editorial backs City Councilor Michelle Wu’s idea of charging for resident parking permits and joins the crowd in deriding City Councilor Michael Flaherty — he of five-car-ownership — for declaring the culprit in the shortage of parking spaces to be too many bus stops, not cars. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says it wouldn’t be fair to charge Boston drivers $25 for residential parking that is now free to them.  (WGBH)

A Greenfield woman and her boyfriend died in January of carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in a tent and using a space heater to stay warm. The woman lived in public housing and wasn’t allowed to have guests, so she decided to camp out with her boyfriend, a homeless sex offender. The cause of death was just released; the incident drew a lot of attention locally. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US District Court Judge Stanley Bastian has blocked Trump administration rules set to go into effect Friday that would cut off federal funding to providers that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning. (Salem News)

ELECTIONS

As Congressman Seth Moulton runs for president, a growing field is eyeing his seat. Former Congressman John Tierney is mulling the idea of running for it; Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff said she is considering it; and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said she might jump in if the seat was open. (Gloucester Daily Times)

To promote greater election competition, Rachel Adele Dec says it’s time to limit the size of campaign war chests that get carried over from one election to the next. (CommonWealth)

Diane Hessan, who has been surveying a group of 500 voters across the country since the 2018 election, finds they are intrigued by the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg, but skeptical of whether he can win. (Boston Globe)

Trump may call him “Crazy Bernie, but to voters it’s more that he’s “Grumpy Bernie.” (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Marriott is planning to take on Airbnb in the home rental market. (Wall Street Journal)

A fallen firefighter’s cancer story highlights fears about contaminants in flame retardants. (CommonWealth)

EDUCATION

On Boston superintendent’s pick, Mayor Marty Walsh’s view looms large even though he technically has no vote on the issue. (CommonWealth) Some parents and other city leaders are slamming the selection process. (Boston Herald)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A lawsuit challenging certain fees assessed by an assisted living facility in Framingham is headed to the Supreme Judicial Court. The case centers on whether the facility acts as a landlord and should be covered by laws covering what tenants can be charged. (MetroWest Daily News)

Paul Hattis says it’s time for Tufts University to do some soul searching about its ties to Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin. (CommonWealth)

ARTS

Boston Globe columnist Renee Loth highlights efforts to remove or cover up controversial art at a San Francisco high school depicting George Washington as a slave owner and architect of a genocidal expansion. She said the artist was clearly taking a poke at the general whitewashing of American history, “but often today intent is immaterial; effect is all.”

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA’s electrification priorities are stuck in traffic, say Veena Dharmaraj and Paola Massoli. (CommonWealth)

Bus rapid transit works great in traffic-clogged Mexico City, and the service is so popular that city officials want to expand it. A contingent from the liberal-leaning Alliance for Business Leadership took a trip to the metropolis and have returned as “evangelists” for that type of rapid bus service. (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A solar project in Pittsfield projected to power 700 homes will require the clear-cutting of 28 acres, and neighbors are upset about the loss of woodland habitat. (WGBH)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Marijuana companies Cape Cod Grow Lab and Haven Center say they plan to withdraw the Land Court lawsuit against the town of Brewster now that the state attorney general’s office has disapproved a bylaw that banned recreational cannabis shops in the town. The bylaw was the underlying issue in the case. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins jointly file a lawsuit seeking to block access to state courthouses by officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (CommonWealth) Former federal judge Nancy Gertner rips the decision of US Attorney Andrew Lelling to indict a Newton district court judge last week for helping an undocumented alien evade ICE agents. (Boston Globe)

A California company says it has developed a breath test for marijuana impairment. (Boston Globe)