Senate leaders ‘getting close’ on transportation bill
Working group, after Spilka pep talk, discusses goals and resources
SENATE LEADERS INDICATED on Wednesday that they are getting close to unveiling a transportation policy bill, and there were indications they are starting to look at various revenue measures.
The Senate’s transportation working group, a body of senators, advocates, and analysts that has been meeting on and off since last spring, held a 90-minute private meeting at the State House. According to people who attended, a sheet was distributed with five transportation goals and 10 possible resources.
The goals were broad – influencing behavior, addressing congestion, supporting sustainability, improving public transit, and promoting regionalization and equity. Under resources, the list included hiking fees on transportation network companies (ride-hailing apps), tolling, regional ballot initiatives, low-income fares, fare reductions, regional transit authorities, parking surcharges, a vehicle trade-in tax, cashing out parking, and raising the gas tax.
The vehicle trade-in tax would assess sales taxes on the full value of a car acquired with a trade-in. Right now, a person buying a $40,000 vehicle and receiving a $10,000 trade-in value on their existing car pays sales taxes only on the $30,000 net price. Cashing out parking is a reference to a policy where employers providing free or subsidized parking to their employees must give them the option of taking cash of equal value; the policy incentivizes people to boost their income by not driving to work and parking.
Stopped by a reporter leaving the room, Spilka was much more cautious. “I’m very supportive of them working together on this, solving the problems of our transportation system,” she said of the working group. As for new revenues, she said: “I think our focus is policy. What do we want to accomplish as a Commonwealth? Policy should decide and drive any decisions about revenue.”
Like Spilka, Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, who chairs the working group and is the cochair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the goal is to develop good transportation policy.
“We’re putting together a transportation policy package, which revenue pieces may be added to or included in,” he said. “We’re kind of hammering that out still, meeting with people. We’re working on policies that will incentivize behavior and changes as people commute and dealing with reducing congestion and emissions and incentivizing people to use public transit. It’s a transportation policy working group.”
With House leaders saying they are preparing to take up a transportation package soon, Boncore said no decisions have been made on revenues in the Senate.
“Right now we’re still having the meetings and going through it. All revenue options remain on the table,” he said. “We’re getting close to having recommendations ready and a transportation policy bill ready to go.”
Sources who attended the meeting said there was discussion of whether the state could simultaneously raise gas taxes and also raise gas prices through the governor’s transportation climate initiative, or whether only one of the options could be pursued.
The sources said Sen. William Brownsberger, the president pro tempore of the Senate, questioned whether the Massachusetts Department of Transportation needed new revenue right now. Another source said the senator questioned the urgency of increasing revenues for transportation.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo told State House News on Wednesday that he has no firm timetable on when a transportation bill will be taken up, but he said a bill will be debated and dealt with before budget deliberations begin in April. He also said he doesn’t see much support among the New England states for the transportation climate initiative, which raises money to address climate change by assessing a fee on the carbon contained in automobile fuels.
“There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of support for the concept, at least from what I see right now,” DeLeo told State House News. “And what I’m especially concerned, what I was looking for, as we went through this process, was to make sure especially that the New England states would be on board. Now, I’m not saying that they’re all off, although I got the distinct impression that New Hampshire is.”DeLeo noted that revenue from TCI would not materialize until at least 2022 if Baker is successful in keeping a coalition together, and he said he no longer feels comfortable factoring TCI into his thinking about transportation revenue given its uncertainty.
“I don’t think we can wait that long,” DeLeo said.