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.

“Generally, there is a feeling across the board that we need to do better and new revenue is needed to support the Commonwealth’s efforts both on roadways and on transportation,” Rooney said.

Rooney applauds Baker and his administration for accepting responsibility for the T and dramatically improving management of the agency. But he says the T’s operating budget is being squeezed and the capital budget, while fully funded for the next five years, does not include many of the projects that need to be done.

“The question is, should they be doing more over the next five years, and we say yes,” he said.

The Greater Boston Chamber has its own detailed revenue plan, which calls for the creation of a commission to figure out roadway pricing across the state, a 5-cent increase in the gas tax each of the next three years, and a $1 to $1.50 increase in the current 20-cent rideshare fee.

Widmer isn’t sure how Baker will respond if a transportation revenue bill is approved by the Legislature, as seems likely.  “He’s very cautious about taxes, and he’s cautious generally,” Widmer said. “That’s why I can’t project what he’ll do.”

Rooney says support for more revenue is building, and notes the bill is likely to include other broadly supported measures dealing with contracting reforms and T governance. “It’ll be a tough veto if he decides to do that,” Rooney said.

Baker has often said that the T is struggling to spend the money it currently has, but neither Rooney nor Widmer buy the argument that new revenues aren’t needed because the transit authority lacks the capacity to spend it.

“This governor got elected and he got reelected because there is widespread appreciation that he is a strong public sector manager,” Widmer said. “He’s got a strong record on solving problems, so if we don’t have the capacity to spend the money we need to spend on the T, then that’s a problem that we need to solve. This is a governor who’s got a whole career, in government and out, solving problems. So I share Jim’s frustration, it’s certainly mine, with the argument that somehow we don’t need new revenues because we don’t know how to spend it. That is not acceptable.”

Rooney said he has briefed House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Karen Spilka, and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack on the chamber’s plan and the broader revenue discussions within the business community. He said the reaction has generally been positive.

“If there’s a place where there’s a great deal of receptivity, it’s on this notion of creating this future, forward-looking 21st century pricing model [for roadways] that everyone can get behind. Because, while there’s a lot of ideas out there about let’s put tolls there and put congestion pricing there, there’s really nothing you can write in legislation and start Monday morning. You need a plan,” Rooney said. “The last thing legislators want to do is deal with this on an annual basis. I mean, this is a hot issue.”

As for Pollack, who was a leading advocate for new transportation revenues in 2013, the last time the Legislature took up the issue, Rooney indicated the transportation secretary was noncommittal. “They have a plan,” he said of the Baker administration. “They’re sticking to it.”

BRUCE MOHL

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker is staking his reputation and deep background in the area on the ambitious health care bill he rolled out last month. (Boston Globe

A Globe editorial criticizes the state shifting of Department of Children and Families offices from city centers to suburban office parks.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

West Roxbury businesses are up in arms over a bicycle-friendly proposal to reduce traffic on Centre Street to one lane in each direction. Everyone from the district city councilor, Matt O’Malley, to the local Main Streets group and city transportation office seems to be running for cover. (Boston Herald

WBUR has obtained official emails that appear to show John Lynch, the former Boston City Hall worker who pled guilty to bribery, inflating a cost estimate on some work to be done on a home he was buying. 

ELECTIONS

Warren is getting hit from the left and the right after releasing her plan for how to finance Medicare for All. (Boston Globe) In a poll, Massachusetts voters offer a warning to Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Medicare for All, report Steve Koczela and Richard Parr. (CommonWealth) Even Saturday Night Live gets in on the act. (Vox)

It’s become slim pickings for conservatives in Boston city elections, so much so that Howie Carr encourages votes in tomorrow’s election for City Council for Althea Garrison and Michael Flaherty, pols he once regularly savaged in columns. (Boston Herald

The Berkshire Eagle endorses Thomas Bernard for mayor of North Adams.

A state ballot initiative requiring more Medicaid support for nursing homes appears to be gaining support. (Boston Globe)

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken is running unopposed for a third term. (Gloucester Daily Times

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Phil Johnston is critical of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy for parting ways with Work Inc., the employment nonprofit for the disabled. (CommonWealth)

EDUCATION

Provincetown middle school teacher Richard Gifford, who recently became one of only a handful of US educators certified as a climate teacher, has been named Barnstable County science educator of the year. (Cape Cod Times

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A proposal to boost Medicaid funding for the state’s troubled nursing home industry may be headed for the 2020 statewide ballot. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

The New England Aquarium  doesn’t think nonprofit cultural institutions should have to make in-lieu-of-tax payments to Boston. (CommonWealth)

A new state law enables the Zeiterion Theater to enter a long-term lease with the city of New Bedford, which should allow the theater to obtain financing for an $18 million renovation.  (Standard-Times

Framingham adds some of those tiny revolving libraries, part of the 94,000 around the world sponsored by the Little Library Organization. (MetroWest Daily News)

TRANSPORTATION

As the Fiscal and Management Control Board prepares to decide the future direction of the state’s commuter rail system, Sen. Will Brownsberger says the six choices on the table are not the right ones. One big flaw of all of them is that they treat frequency of service the same across many lines, even if some of those lines won’t yield much traffic, he says. 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Utilities National Grid and Eversource say they don’t need a controversial compressor station in Weymouth to ship their gas through pipelines. (WBUR)  

Meredith Elbaum says zero energy homes are not expensive. (CommonWealth)

CASINOS

Encore Boston Harbor commissions huge murals across the street from its casino to brighten up what is otherwise a dreary area, including a power plant. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Advocates call for reforms to promote prison inmate voting. (CommonWealth)

Daniel Lacroix and Richard Degagne, two priests in the Fall River Diocese, have been placed on leave because of unspecified misconduct allegations dating back decades, and the matter has been referred to prosecutors. (Herald-News

Beverly police and the Essex district attorney’s office are investigating allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by the former director of the Boston Children’s Theater. (Boston Globe)

The family of a 22-year-old, whose leg was nearly severed by a boat propeller during a booze cruise in the Dominican Republic, claims the boat crew kept serving drinks after the accident, according to a lawsuit filed against StudentCity, a Peabody travel company that arranged the trip. (Salem News

A State Police trooper from Canton who was ordered to falsify records to protect a judge’s daughter is cleared of any wrongdoing. (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA

Kirk Davis, the CEO of GateHouse Media, is leaving just as the company prepares to merge with Gannett, writes media watcher Dan Kennedy