Funding transportation beyond state taxation

The gas tax indexing defeat left Massachusetts cities and towns scrambling to figure out where new dollars to fund roads, bridges, and mass transit repairs would come from.

With state lawmakers making it crystal clear that “the people have spoken,” fresh funding proposals, such as regional transportation taxes, are likely to move through the Legislature slower than a Green Line train during a rush-hour snow squall.

Limited Chapter 90 funds and the politics associated with doling them out have frustrated municipal officials for years. As for mass transit, it’s no secret that the MBTA is struggling financially and that regional transportation authorities are underfunded and their communities are underserved.

What’s a municipality to do?

Two communities have taken matters into their own hands. Lee serves up the most radical (for Massachusetts) funding alternative. In a car-dependent region, the Berkshire town aims to be able to charge a municipal gas tax of three cents, so that local transportation officials can begin to chip away at $40 million in road and bridge work.

Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, wants his colleagues to approve a home-rule petition that would allow Lee to levy the tax in much the same way that municipalities currently levy hotel and meal taxes. The town has eight gas stations, including two on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and, so, cha-ching.

Pignatelli goes further into revolutionary territory with another measure that would allow cities and towns to enact their own gas taxes without having to secure authorization from Beacon Hill. “Cities and towns should have a dedicated stream of revenue they can stockpile for future projects,” the state representative told the Berkshire Eagle “If we do Lee, several other communities may line up and want to do it, too.”

That “other communities may want to do it, too” is a proposition that the Legislature’s more conservative members will look askance at. But there’s a growing realization in the Bay State that infrastructure disinvestment is both hazardous to public health and bad for business. With new ideas to fund transportation in short supply, devolving some specific taxation powers to municipalities and regions, as other states do, could be a way to move forward on the transportation front.

Meanwhile, in transit-dependent Cambridge, the Boston Globe reports that city officials plan to explore levying fees on real estate developers in Kendall Square to fund improvements to the MBTA Red Line station and new bus alternatives in a neighborhood urban renewal zone.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told CommonWealth that she was unfamiliar with the Lee move but that Cambridge officials had approached her with their plan. She cautioned that, if the idea goes forward, city and state officials must insure that such funds are closely-monitored and spent exclusively within the precisely demarcated zone.

“We are always happy to partner with cities and towns and with private entities who have ideas for ways that they can help us provide the services or make capital investments.” Pollack said. “We’re obviously very stretched thin on both the highway side and on the T side.”

MassDOT is “open” to these types of ideas, but the department is not “initiating” them, Pollack added. “Cities and towns will have to make that judgment call,” she said.

GABRIELLE GURLEY

 

BEACON HILL

A new report, commissioned last year by the Legislature, says the state’s Department of Children and Families is in shambles, and losing 17 percent of its management positions through the Baker administration early retirement program. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Walsh makes a little news by saying for the first time he plans to run for a second term in 2017 — though the real news would have been if he gave any notion that he wouldn’t seek reelection. (Boston Globe)

Walsh has been good to his Dorchester neighbors when it comes to city jobs, reports the Herald.

The Board of Registrars in Lawrence allows a recall effort of Mayor Daniel Rivera to proceed to the next stage. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Quincy Housing Authority is seeking to ban from public housing dog breeds such as pit bulls, dobermans, and rottweilers, as well as any other breeds that grow to more than 40 pounds. (Patriot Ledger)

Lowell receives a nearly $2 million federal grant to hire 12 firefighters. (The Sun)

Belchertown’s police chief fails to tell other town officials about a reckless driving incident.(MassLive)

CASINOS

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods plan a new Connecticut casino to take on MGM Springfield. (MassLive)

Brockton casino developer Neil Bluhm wants the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to vote his gambling palace up or down and not stall him while the idea of an Indian casino drags on and on. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

John Shattuck writes that far-right political parties in Europe are fanning the flames of xenophobia in the current refugee crisis, repeating a response that gave rise to the catastrophes there of the last century. (Boston Globe)

US Rep. Katherine Clark talks about her first two years in what she says is a “dysfunctional” Congress, but says she has no regrets about running for the office and says it’s the newcomers who can effect change. (Greater Boston)

The editors of the National Review call for “conscientious objector” status for public officials opposed to same-sex marriage.

ELECTIONS

A new poll shows Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton in Iowa. (Time) Democratic party officials, wary of Sanders’s socialist roots, have discussed drafting a high-profile candidate such as John Kerry, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, or Al Gore if Clinton doesn’t regain her momentum. (New York Times)

Rolling Stone rolls out a Donald Trump profile that makes for fascinating reading, including the part where he says he can’t imagine anyone voting for anyone with a face like Carly Fiorina’s. The Globe reports that Trump is stirring things up in the GOP primary with talk of taxing the super rich, a stance that is drawing criticism even as some of his rivals are starting to take up the same theme.

Trump may threaten bipartisan agreement on criminal justice reforms. (Talking Points Memo)

A Herald editorial says Hillary Clinton‘s email explanations are as “clear as mud.”

Dorchester Reporter editor Bill Forry decries the abysmal voter turnout for this week’s municipal preliminary election in Boston.

DRUGS

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson says police prefer treatment for opioid abuse rather than arrest.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Apple again releases an exciting new lineup of products. (Time)

The Wall Street Journal puts the spotlight on the EB-5 visa program, which fast-tracks green cards for foreign investors, and focuses on “gerrymandering” census tracts to finance luxury developments in upscale neighborhoods at the expense of low-income areas it was designed to aid. CommonWealth wrote a similar story about the program’s use in Massachusetts.

EDUCATION

The UMass Medical School plans to start accepting out-of-state students. (Telegram & Gazette)

Renee Loth, writing for WBUR, says there is an obvious solution to teacher shortages — increase their pay. Meanwhile, a Boston kindergarten teacher explains how she prepares for the new school year. (Bay State Banner)

John Hancock donates 10 tractor-trailer loads of furniture and office supplies to the Lynn public schools. (The Item)

Michael Tempesta, the superintendent of the Saugus schools, announces he is leaving for a new job in Worcester in a month. (The Item)

An online petition is calling for the ouster of the superintendent and principal at Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School over a racially charged Facebook posting by a math teacher who was forced to resign. (Standard-Times)

Seattle teachers go on strike. (Seattle Times)

HEALTH CARE

John L. Brooks III, the CEO of the Joslin Diabetes Center, was forced out of his job by the center’s board this week — but he says he has no idea why. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

Gov. Charlie Baker reacts cautiously to pressure from former governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld for a North-South rail link and rejects one of their key arguments. (CommonWealth) Here’s a primer on the issue. Southeastern Mass lawmakers say constructing the link would “take away all the oxygen” for other projects, including South Coast Rail. (Standard-Times)

Once again, the MBTA is mapping out growing deficits in the years ahead. (State House News)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

State officials are proposing to allow deer hunting in the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton to thin the burgeoning population that is damaging the forest, running into traffic, and carrying the ticks that spread Lyme disease. (Patriot Ledger)

California Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers drop a plan to cut petroleum use 50 percent by 2030. (Governing)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A former Merrimack College professor pleads guilty to keeping 300 child porn pictures on his computer at the North Andover college and may face 46 to 57 months in prison. (Eagle-Tribune)

Family members mourn the death of 15-year-old Wilson Martinez, who was found stabbed to death on an East Boston beach. (Boston Globe) His classmates at East Boston High School are stunned and saddened. (Boston Herald)

The Justice Department has issued new rules for prosecutors to go after white collar criminals, who have largely skated when their companies are found guilty of federal charges. (New York Times)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe hires a chief growth officer to sell ideas not advertising. (CommonWealth)

National Geographic will become a for-profit venture under a new partnership with Fox. (CNN)

SCIENCE

Man has a new cousin as scientists have discovered a previously unknown species in human evolution in a cave in South Africa. (New York Times)