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.
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.
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.”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.”