Straus says TCI is getting in the way
‘The governor’s approach is not working’
THE HOUSE’S LEADER on transportation issues raised concerns on Friday that the transportation and climate initiative being pushed by Gov. Charlie Baker is sputtering, and may be getting in the way of the Legislature’s upcoming debate over new revenues.
The transportation climate initiative, also known as TCI, sets a cap on transportation emissions in the participating states – a cap that would decline over time. To sell gas and diesel fuel in the participating states, wholesale distributors would have to purchase special allowances auctioned off in amounts equal to the size of the cap. The proceeds from the auction sales would be funneled back to the participating states for use in combatting climate change.
Baker has argued that TCI is much better than a gas tax because it ratchets down emissions while simultaneously using proceeds from that effort to get people out of gas-guzzling vehicles. The governor also likes the fact that TCI has states moving in concert, providing a scalable approach to climate change while not requiring any one state to raise the price of gasoline on its own.
“It doesn’t create a financial disadvantage for anybody,” Baker said at a presentation in December. “Everybody’s going to be playing on the same terms.”
“The governor’s approach is not working. It’s not resonating,” he said.
Straus said TCI is an admission by the governor that the state needs additional transportation revenues, but the initiative doesn’t spell out clearly how the emissions cap will be set and how much it will cause gasoline prices to rise.
“TCI has clouded the discussion,” Straus said. “I think people need to start asking the question of whether TCI as a public policy debate is getting in the way of the real need for transportation revenues.”
Straus is working with other House leaders on a transportation funding and spending plan that he said is likely to come up for debate later this month. Asked about the spending portion of the plan, Straus appeared to borrow from the Baker administration’s playbook for TCI, saying, for example, that some money could be set aside for broadband deployment in western Massachusetts to help people work from home. Baker has said previously that half of the TCI funds would go for transit and half would go for such climate change initiatives as broadband expansion and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Straus said all options are being reviewed as the House prepares its transportation plan, but in the past he has talked favorably about raising the gas tax. His comments about TCI may reflect concerns that TCI and a hike in the gas tax may be an unwelcome one-two punch, in part because both would impact the price of gasoline.
Katie Gronendyke, a spokesperson for Katie Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs who is spearheading TCI for the Baker administration, declined to comment on Straus’s comments or concerns that the initiative may not be reaching critical mass. She issued a statement saying Massachusetts is looking forward to working with other regional leaders to identify practical, market-based solutions to reduce transportation emissions without harming the economy.“The Administration is pleased by the robust participation by Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states throughout the program’s ongoing development process and by the broad coalition of support from members of both the business and environmental communities,” Gronendyke said in a statement.
“Whether [Baker] would want Massachusetts to go it alone is something only he should decide. I don’t think it should,” Straus said.