Is Walsh preparing to go ‘bold’ on transportation?
Is Mayor Marty Walsh preparing to call for a massive upgrade of Boston-area public transit by making the case for a regional tax to support bold new investments? Listen to him on the new installment of The Codcast, and you make the call.
The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce’s “City to City” program sets out to take Boston civic and business leaders to other cities so they can expand their thinking on challenges at home by learning about policies and practices elsewhere. Walsh, who was part of the program’s trip earlier this month to Los Angeles, has clearly taken that mission to heart.
Appearing on The Codcast, Walsh repeatedly pointed to the “bold” move taken by Los Angeles leaders, who brought a countywide ballot question to voters asking them to raise the local sales tax to support major investments in the region’s transit infrastructure.
Walsh’s comments come as the state faces mounting pressure to address the twin Boston area problems of roadway gridlock and a dilapidated public transit system that drivers are loath to abandon their cars for.
In 2016, following a campaign led by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, 71 percent of voters across Los Angeles County, a sprawling area of 88 cities and more than 10 million residents, approved a ballot question adding half a cent to their sales tax. It’s estimated that that the measure will raise $120 billion over the next 40 years to support a broad array of public transit improvements.
Walsh said growing the Boston area economy depends on solving the transportation challenge, and that starts with restoring confidence in the public transit system through aggressive improvements. With the Legislature planning to take up transportation finance — an issue the House punted to next year after having vowed to tee it up this fall — Walsh said he supports a call by area mayors for a 15-cent hike in the state gas tax, but insisted that’s not nearly enough.
“We have to think about, how do we get bigger than that,” he said.
The Legislature has to sign off on a bill allowing local regions to propose ballot questions to raise transportation revenue, something that has passed the Senate in recent years but died in the House. Walsh is now backing the local-option measure to let regions of the state mount their own revenue-raising efforts. “We need a revenue source. We need to figure it out,” he said.
The key, Walsh said, is to “tell a story” to voters that makes the case for revenue. He pointed to the recent success of a Boston ballot question calling for a small increase in property taxes to support affordable housing, open space, and historic preservation efforts.
“We have to be bold in making investments,” he said of the transportation crisis. “I think we have to really think outside the box.”
Pressed repeatedly on whether, if the Legislature approved the local-option bill, he was prepared to lead a regional ballot campaign to raise more revenue for transit projects, Walsh deflected the question. But it’s hard not to see the wheels turning in City Hall policy circles around such an idea.
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