T control board wants to discuss new revenues with lawmakers

Members appear to be breaking away from the Baker script

FOUR OF THE FIVE MEMBERS of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board indicated on Monday that they think the Legislature should explore new transportation funding initiatives and several said a portion of the money should go to the transit authority.

Brian Lang and Monica Tibbits-Nutt were the most specific. As the T raises fares, they said, the Legislature should increase transportation funding in other ways and direct a large portion of the money to the transit authority. Options, they said, include hiking fees on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft, raising the gas tax, and imposing congestion fees on drivers.

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the control board, indicated he was supportive, saying “these are all useful tools.” Chrystal Kornegay also indicated she was interested in exploring conversations with lawmakers, and focused in her remarks on the best way to carry them out. Only Brian Shortsleeve was silent on the issue.

All five members of the board were appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker, who has shown no interest in hiking fees on ride-hailing apps, raising the gas tax, or imposing congestion fees on drivers.

Aiello indicated the board would prepare a letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack over the next few weeks on how to engage with Beacon Hill on the broader transportation policy issues. Aiello smiled and walked away after the control board meeting when he was asked if it made sense to use Pollack as an intermediary with the Legislature on higher taxes and fees when her boss, the governor, opposes them.

Two key Beacon Hill lawmakers said on Monday that they agree the state needs more revenue to buttress its transportation system and are willing to discuss the issue with the control board.

“We need new revenue sources in the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop, the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “This fare increase is a microcosm of a much bigger problem, and it’s that we’re just not adequately funding transportation.”

Boncore and his House counterpart, Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, are both leaving themselves room to maneuver around the particulars of a revenue increase – which could come in the form of taxes, fees, or some other money-raising measure. “If we do increase revenue for transportation, which I hope we do, it will be the least hated choice,” Straus said on Monday.

Boncore also indicated he will value the ability to achieve consensus above other considerations.

“At this point, I think what makes sense is what we can get done,” Boncore said Monday. “There’s many things we can talk about like a gas tax, carbon pricing, regional ballot initiatives, congestion pricing, more tolling, or tolling equity. But really the answer is what the House and Senate can come together and put forward,” he said.

At the control board, the tone of some members on Monday was frustration. “We are running out of time to find different revenue streams and running out of time to take the climate-change issue seriously,” said Tibbits-Nutt.

Lang, who has called on political leaders to “grow some political courage,” was blunt in his assessment of inaction by Beacon Hill. “Quite frankly, I’m tired that the only time we hear from people at the State House is times like this,” he said, referring to the debate on raising MBTA fares.

In an amendment to the fare proposal he later withdrew, Lang suggested a minimum 10 percent increase in fees paid by ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. A 10 percent fee would be much higher than what’s been proposed so far on Beacon Hill. One bill, for example, calls for a 6.5 percent fee on single-rider trips and a 4.5 percent fee on shared-ride trips; Uber said that proposal would result in Massachusetts riders paying the highest tax in the country on ride-hailing services.

The idea of increasing revenue for transportation has been part of the debate around fixing the MBTA for years. Democrat Jay Gonzalez ran on that goal in his 2018 campaign for governor, and activists around the state have spent years working to advance a proposal to create a new tax on the highest earners in Massachusetts, raising $2 billion for transportation and education. Last year the Supreme Judicial Court blocked the proposal from appearing on the November ballot.

In an interview Monday, Straus said the control board’s immediate responsibility was to vote on a proposed fare increase enabling the T to raise some more revenue on its own. The control board approved a 5.8 percent average increase, which would raise $29.5 million.

“No one said the control board or being on the control board was an easy job,” Straus said. “None of them were drafted. They all in some way volunteered to do a tough job.”

Meet the Author

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.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Boncore appeared to bristle at the suggestion by Lang that the control board only hears from lawmakers when a fare increase is on the table.

“They can say what they want, but it is their charge to hold these public hearings and hear from everybody,” Boncore said. “They’re hearing from this lawmaker all the time on sources of revenue and trying to get more funds set aside for transportation.”