Growing calls to tackle traffic’s toll

Never mind the Democratic Legislature or smart growth and transportation advocacy groups. Gov. Charlie Baker is now getting pressure to embrace a pilot program calling for variable-price tolling from the state’s leading conservative think tank.

Baker has strongly signaled his dislike of a provision of the state budget sitting on his desk that calls for a pilot study of congestion-price tolling in Massachusetts.

The proposal would discount tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Tobin Bridge, and the two Boston Harbor tunnels for drivers during off-peak hours. The idea is to create an incentive for drivers with some flexibility to schedule trips at times when the Boston-area roadways aren’t gridlocked with weekday commuters. As the Boston Globe said in an editorial last week, it seems like the sort of thing the wonky, data-focused governor would embrace.

But Baker has instead hinted at a coming veto of the provision, saying constituents would view it as “incredibly punitive.” The Boston Herald reported that some drivers are concerned that discounts for off-peak travel would eventually disappear and the differential pricing would be achieved by increasing tolls for peak travel times.

While some may see the pilot plan as punitive, that appears to be a minority opinion. A new survey by the MassINC Polling Group commissioned by the Barr Foundation found 61 percent of Massachusetts voters support the idea, while 30 percent oppose it.

“With numbers like that, you’d think the proposal would sail through like a car going under one the state’s new all-electronic tolling gates,” wrote Steve Koczela and Rich Parr of the MassINC Polling Group.

The poll did find, however, that voters oppose the idea of raising tolls for peak travel times as opposed to discounting off-peak travel.

“Charging more for something that is both scarce and in high demand (i.e. road space at rush hour) follows fairly basic economic principles,” write Koczela and Parr, noting that the MBTA is applying that very concept to the pricing of some parking lots at T stations.

Perhaps Baker is looking at the issue as one where he takes a stand in the run-up to the fall election on behalf of the conservative base of his party, a group that has been less than thrilled with his middle-of-the-road ways.

But a veto may come off as more head-in-sand than line-in-the-sand. Increasingly gridlocked roads are a reality, not an ideological position. Perhaps the clearest sign of that is an op-ed posted yesterday in support of the pilot program from the leaders of the conservative-leaning Pioneer Institute that Baker once ran.

“Massachusetts could reject this pilot proposal even before trying it out, but that would suggest that we have good alternatives,” write Pioneer’s executive director Jim Stergios and senior fellow Charlie Chieppo in the Boston Business Journal.

We can either build more roadways or figure out ways to use existing ones more efficiently, they say. Given the cost and time needed to do the former — as well as the already long backlog of needed repair work — they say the pilot toll discount program is worth a try.

The average Boston driver spends 60 hours a year stuck in traffic, a big drain on economic productivity and contributor to unnecessary fuel use and air pollution, they write.

“Rejecting the pilot is akin to either throwing in the towel and telling people they are destined to sit in ever-longer traffic jams, or like asking people to pray for an economic downturn,” write Stergios and Chieppo. If the pilot results aren’t promising, they say, the state can always scrap the idea. “But standing still is not an option.”

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill creating a new $2 fee on rental car contracts to help fund the training of municipal police officers. At the bill signing, Baker said the bill pays homage to officers killed in the line of duty. In reality, however, it’s a way of funding government with private sector fees. (State House News) For an in-depth look at such off-the-books fees, check out this story. (CommonWealth).

Karen Spilka is poised to take the reins as the new Senate president today, vowing to “right the ship” after months of scandal that have wracked the chamber, capped by the resignation of former president Stan Rosenberg. (Boston Globe)

Legislation authorizing community benefit districts is suddenly facing headwinds on Beacon Hill. (State House News)

Legislators appear poised to pass a pared down version of the Valor Act, replacing the statute now in place that grants courts added leeway to divert criminal cases involving veterans. The earlier version came in for criticism when some veterans had serious domestic violence charges dismissed based on their military service. (Boston Globe)

A bid by Great Barrington and Lee to raise the gas tax in their communities is going nowhere on Beacon Hill. (Berkshire Eagle)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Worcester is now paying $294 to haul away recyclables, and $193 to dispose of trash as a changing world market is altering the economics of recycling. (Telegram & Gazette)

Marblehead school officials say custodians have been dumping floor cleaning water into the organic garden at the Malcolm Bell School for years. Students and teachers eat vegetables from the garden, which is now being tested for contamination. (Daily Item)

The steeples at the Notre Dame des Canadiens Church in Worcester start coming down. (Telegram & Gazette)

East Boston leaders are sounding the alarm about overdevelopment in their neighborhood. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Even the now Trump-friendly Boston Herald editorial page can’t stomach the president’s trade war moves.

ELECTIONS

A Lowell Sun editorial acknowledges Sen. Barbara L’Italien’s outfoxing of Fox News may have scored some points with Democratic political insiders in the race for Congress in the third congressional district, but warns that “risking the public’s trust isn’t worth this sort of short-term political gain.”

Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi has an interesting column on how abortion has come to be a hot topic in the race for secretary of state, a position that has nothing to do with abortion.

Joe Battenfeld says Elizabeth Warren’s would-be presidential campaign looks shaky with answers like those she gave in an MSNBC interview where she spoke fondly of a time when marginal tax rates were well above 50 percent. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A group of heavy hitters penned an op-ed condemning the absence of any women among the finalists for awards handed out by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. (Boston Globe)

The US and European Union stepped back from the brink of a trade war after the two sides worked toward an agreement to end tariffs. (New York Times)

Hundreds of applicants are vying for scarce affordable housing in Quincy as high-end apartment development booms, squeezing out low- and middle-income residents. (Patriot Ledger)

Facebook stock prices took a plunge in the wake of news that the social media site had a drop in users and revenue, a decline that cost founder Mark Zuckerberg nearly $17 billion of his estimated wealth. (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

Students and activists marched outside the downtown Boston office of University of Massachusetts president Marty Meehan to protest recently announced tuition hikes in the UMass system. (Boston Herald)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering changes in regulations that would make it harder for students to get debt-relief from being defrauded by for-profit colleges. (New York Times)

With a boost in state aid, Brockton now has a budget surplus that will allow the schools to rehire 14 of the 46 teachers and staff who had been given layoff notices. (The Enterprise)

Chicago appears to be figuring out how to fix its school system. Are there lessons in the Windy City that other municipalities could benefit from? (Governing)

RELIGION

The National Review takes the Catholic church, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, in particular, to task for their response to allegations of child sex abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former bishop of the Washington, D.C. archdiocese.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

An experimental drug developed by Cambridge-based Biogen and Japanese pharmaceutical firm Eisai has shown some early promise in slowing cognitive decline among Alzheimer’s patients. (STAT)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Three Massachusetts utilities are seeking $426 million as compensation for negotiating the 20-year hydro-electricity contract with Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power. (CommonWealth)

Abigail Ross Hopper of the Solar Energy Industries Association says solar in Massachusetts is hurting and needs legislative help. (CommonWealth)

Fall River officials are trying once again to create a solar farm on 300 acres owned by the municipal water district after getting “no responsive” applications to their first request for proposal. (Herald News)

Vineyard Wind has pledged to cover legal and administrative costs for Yarmouth as officials study the potential for a host mitigation agreement that would allow the company to run power lines through the town from its planned turbines off Martha’s Vineyard to a Barnstable substation. (Cape Cod Times)

A Marblehead couple donated Gerry Island in Little Harbor to the Trustees of Reservations. (Salem News)

A study by geologists hired by Marshfield finds material from dredging Green Harbor will likely not be useful to replenish the town’s eroding beaches. (Patriot Ledger)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

The Cannabis Control Commission now has 40 employees earning an average salary of $110,000 a year. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Washington Post reviewed 26,000 homicides around the country in the last decade and found the clearance rate for white victims is far higher than those for victims of color. The story found the biggest gap was in Boston. It should be noted the Boston Herald did a series in 2014 on the disparity in the clearance rate and found nearly identical numbers.

Two Wenham police officers resigned after a report said they used phony receipts to obtain payments from the Wenham Police Relief Association. (Salem News)

A fifth state trooper is facing charges as part of a federal corruption investigation, with prosecutors alleging that recently retired trooper Daren Dejong embezzled more than $14,000 by submitting bogus overtime claims for hours he didn’t work. (Boston Herald) A Herald editorial says the “Massachusetts State Police is an agency hemorrhaging credibility and trust. If the culture from within does not change, it may not be salvageable.” A Globe editorial calls for a pension overhaul now underway on Beacon Hill to add a provision that would ban public workers from beginning to collect retirement payments while facing “serious charges stemming from their employment” as is now the case with several former State Police officers.

Court officers at Falmouth District Court used Narcan to revive a man who apparently overdosed while sitting in the courtroom. (Cape Cod Times)

About 250 inmates at the Bristol County House of Correction skipped at least one meal to protest conditions at the jail. (Standard-Times)

Consider it settled: It’s pronounced “gerrymander” with a hard “G” like “Gary,” not like “Jerry.” So says Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts responding to a letter from officials in Marblehead, the hometown of Elbridge Gerry, the father of “gerrymandering.” (Wicked Local)

MEDIA

Meghna Chakrabarti and David Folkenflik are named the new hosts of WBUR’s On Point, which was formerly hosted by Tom Ashbrook, who was dismissed in February for creating an abusive work environment. (WBUR)

A CNN reporter was banned from a White House event. (Washington Post)

The Lowell Sun, which is owned by the same company (Digital First Media) as the Boston Herald, is reprinting stories first published in the Herald. Here’s one example.

Some local media professors say Patriots owner Robert Kraft or Red Sox and Boston Globe owner John Henry would be great new owners for Channel 25, which is being put up for sale by Cox Media Group. (Boston Herald)