Baker pushes telecommuter tax credit

Says T has made strides, prepared to make many more

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER called a press conference on Thursday to detail transportation initiatives he has launched since taking office and to lay out a number of measures he sees on the horizon, including a telecommuting tax credit to help reduce road congestion and a proposal to steer to the MBTA half of any money the state collects under a regional carbon fee on automobile fuels.

The ostensible reason for the press conference was to announce the filing of an $18 billion bond bill for transportation, but the actual purpose was to make the case that the administration has made great strides in reversing a long-term trend of underinvestment at the T and is poised to continue that momentum into the future.

At a time when Baker is under fire for a Red Line that has not been working well since a June 11 derailment and pressure is mounting on Beacon Hill to direct more revenue to the MBTA, the governor sought to reassure the public that he has a plan to turn the transit system around and the funding to carry it out.

He spent roughly 20 minutes reading a speech laying out all the work his administration has accomplished and plans to do in the future. He was backed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, and Energy and Environmental Secretary Kathleen Theoharides, all of whom amplified the same message.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack at a press conference announcing the filing of a transportation bond bill. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

Bond bills by their very nature are little more than a wish list. Of the $18 billion in bonding authority Baker is seeking, he said $10.1 billion would go to road and highway initiatives, $5.7 billion to the T, and $330 million to the state’s regional transit authorities. Baker didn’t hide the fact that his proposals will probably be significantly changed as they move through the Legislature.

The telecommuting tax credit was one of the more concrete ideas. Baker called Massachusetts “a laggard” on telecommuting compared to most other states and said business groups had told him telecommuting could be kickstarted if the state provided a financial incentive.

The governor proposes giving employers a $2,000 tax credit for each employee that telecommutes to work. The governor said the initiative could take tens of thousands of drivers off the roads and help reduce congestion. (The administration’s long-awaited congestion study is due out before the end of the month.) The telecommuting tax credit would be capped at $50 million, the equivalent of 25,000 employees.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Baker also wants to create a new funding source for future MBTA borrowings. Massachusetts is currently working with other northeast states to develop a transportation climate initiative that would put a price on the carbon contained in vehicle fuels and steer the money raised from the program back to the participating states. Baker would like to steer half of the money Massachusetts would receive to the MBTA to help leverage bond issues.

The governor said negotiations on the transportation climate initiative won’t be completed until 2020, so he said he didn’t know how much money could be generated. The Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth said in a report issued in December that the revenues would depend on the design of the program, but estimated they would range from $150 million to $500 million a year.