The Codcast: Subsidizing congestion

Everyone knows about traffic congestion in Boston. It’s why we’re often late for meetings. It’s why sightseeing firms are paring back their tours because the tourists are spending too much time sitting in traffic. And it’s why many Boston officials are worried Amazon will take a pass on the city — traffic is just too heavy already.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the federal government is subsidizing this congestion. Tax policies approved in the 1970s and 1980s give a break to people who drive to work and park in employer-provided or employed-subsidized parking spots. Normally that type of fringe benefit would be taxed as income, but under federal law employees are granted an exemption of up to $255 a month.

The federal tax break is most valuable to people in the highest tax brackets who are commuting to areas where parking is most expensive. “We’re subsidizing them to drive in precisely the places and at precisely the times that experience the most congestion,” said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, during a Codcast interview with Josh Fairchild and James Aloisi of TransitMatters.

Dutzik and his colleagues issued a report on the problem in September; it’s entitled “Who pays for Parking: How Federal Tax Policies Jam More Cars into Congested Cities, and How Cities Can Reclaim Their Streets.” The report estimates the “commuter parking benefit” is worth $7.3 billion a year and adds 820,000 commuters to the nation’s roads.

Of course, the federal government also tries to reduce congestion by offering tax breaks to employees who use public transit to get to work. The “commuter transit benefit,” however, is worth only $1.3 billion a year, so it’s no wonder congestion is getting worse and worse in cities such as Boston.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

After a marathon session that stretched until nearly 1:30 a.m. on Friday, the Senate passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill by a 27-10 margin, with four Democrats joining the chamber’s six Republicans in voting no. (Boston Globe)

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants said probate judges are overwhelmed with work and a constitutional crisis looms amid a shortage of attorneys who can represent parents who have had children removed by the Department of Children and Families. (MassLive)

Gov. Charlie Baker wants to use funds controlled by the Massachusetts Health Connector to replace the federal health insurance subsidies canceled by President Trump. (State House News)

Tim Sullivan is leaving his job at MassHousing to take a post at UBS. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Internal Revenue Service, reeling from budget cuts, closed its Springfield taxpayer assistance office because of staff shortages. No one seems to know whether the closure is permanent. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health” emergency but because he did not declare it a “national emergency” as he promised during the campaign, there were no immediate funds released to combat the scourge. (New York Times)

Some 2,800 documents related to the JFK assassination are released, but President Trump orders hundreds others kept under wraps, apparently at the request of various law enforcement and intelligence agencies. (Boston Globe) Crowd-sourced reporting: the Boston Globe asks readers to pass along anything in the documents they find interesting.

The House narrowly passed the budget blueprint, paving the way for the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next decade. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

The Globe offers endorsements in the three most hotly contested Boston district city council races, giving the nod to Lydia Edwards in District 1, Michael Kelley in District 2, and Kim Janey in District 7. The Herald backs Rufus Faulk in the District 7 race.

Newton mayoral candidate Scott Lennon has rocked the race with an ad boasting that he is the only candidate who has worked steadily for 20 years, a claim many take as a shot at rival Ruthanne Schwartz Fuller’s years as a stay-at-home mom. (Boston Globe)

President Trump got into a Twitter war with Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor in Virginia, claiming Northam didn’t show up for meetings of an economic council where he was a member and the candidate firing back about Trump’s numerous golf trips since being inaugurated. (U.S. News & World Report)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Eversource Energy asks its ratepayers to foot the bill for the cost of its memberships in business and trade groups. (CommonWealth)

CVS is in talks to buy Aetna for $66 billion. (Wall Street Journal)

Amazon beat earnings expectations, the stock price jumped 8 percent, and Jeff Bezos made $6 billion overnight. (Money)

The former South Weymouth Naval Air Station is being transformed into a futuristic “smart city” known as Union Point. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

A Lowell Sun editorial tears into Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and the Massachusetts School Building Authority for siding with the Democratic power brokers in the Belvidere section of Lowell who don’t want a new high school in their neighborhood.

A sexual harassment complaint is filed against Boston University scientist David Marchant, an expert on Antarctica, in connection with incidents that allegedly occurred 18 years ago. (WBUR)

Centrally located Shrewsbury is becoming a popular place to live. Enrollment at Shrewsbury High School is maxed out, with 1,832 students trying to fit in a facility designed for 1,400. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Brockton High School football team won its 800th game, the first team in New England and one of only 11 in the country to reach the milestone. (The Enterprise)

The nonprofit Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports and ruled this week to deny recognition of a girl golfer who bested her male competitors, pulls in millions of dollars in fees from schools but operates in “virtual secrecy,” the Herald reports. A Herald editorial says the organization needs to bring its rules “into the 21st century.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s schedule is heavy with meetings with advocates for religious and charter schools. (New York Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A yellow labrador dog named Zoey overdosed in Andover, was rushed to the hospital, and saved by naloxone. (Eagle-Tribune)

Flora Stevens, who was dropped off by her husband at a doctor’s appointment in 1975 and then disappeared, is discovered living under a different name at an assisted living facility in Lowell. (Lowell Sun)

TRANSPORTATION

Sen. Thomas McGee of Lynn wants tolls added to major highways in and around Boston. (Boston Herald) Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he’s open to the idea. (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is researching the claims in a research report that Eversource and Avangrid manipulated the price of natural gas. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts fishermen are pushing federal officials to act on an amendment that could mean hundreds of millions of dollars to the industry by opening up a fish habitat about 50 miles east of Cape Cod where videos of the sandy bottom shows an abundance of mature scallops which could die off before being harvested. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Orion Krause, charged with killing his mother, his grandparents, and their caretaker at their house in Groton, had phoned a former college professor and told him, “I think I have to kill my mom.” (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Pittsfield City Council candidate Craig Gaetani files a lawsuit against the Berkshire Eagle, alleging the newspaper defamed him by recounting a story about two men who urged him not to drive home from an event because he smelled like alcohol. (Berkshire Eagle)

Northeastern University journalism professor and media critic Dan Kennedy says the recent trend by legacy news organizations such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to restrict their reporters opinions on social media is a wise and necessary move. (WGBH)