Last week, the House and Senate agreed on a transportation package and sent it to the Governor. House 3535 is the report of the conference committee reconciling the two versions of the transportation plan.
The legislative version of the plan rolled out in April — it was rolled out jointly by the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. It provided less revenue to support investment in transportation than did the Govenor’s plan. The House considered the plan first and did not change the package of tax increases supporting the plan.
The Senate version of the plan did not change the tax package either, but it did allocate more of the increased taxes to transportation. It left the first year allocation fixed, so preventing any confusion about the amount of money available for the current budget, but over the next four years, it devoted more of the available revenue stream to transportation.
For me, an important improvement that occurred on the Senate floor was a further dedication of revenue in years six and seven of the plan (2019 and 2020). The Governor proposed to invest roughly an additional $1 billion per year financed by bonding. Since additional debt would issue each year, debt service to support the plan would continue to increase. To assure the kind of long-term planning horizon necessary for major transportation projects, I was concerned to assure continuing increases in dedicated revenue.
The final plan does provide specific additional amounts in 2019 and 2020. The Senate floor amendment had provided for percentage increases, but the defined amounts are comparable. I would have preferred to keep the additional Senate language maintaining inflation-adjusted dedicated revenues in years beyond 2020, but the final package does not include that protection. I did support the final package — seven years seems like a pretty good planning window and we will need to continue to legislate around the issue anyway.
In one respect the conference report is more generous than the Senate version — the Senate version required MassDOT to start raising revenue (pegged at $40 million annually) by charging utilities more for access easements (e.g., permissions to have cable conduits layed along a state road). The final version makes no assumption of increased revenue from this source and, instead dedicates more tax revenue to MassDOT. However, the option remains open to MassDOT to further raise revenues from this source.
In April, the Governor had expressed unhappiness with the scale of the original legislative investment. However, in May, the Governor signaled a positive attitude towards the Senate version of the plan which dedicated more revenue to transportation. Most expected him to support the conference report, which, while preserving the basic House-Senate tax-increase framework, did do substantially more to support transportation, coming very close to the Governor’s numbers. On the afternoon that the legislature approved the final package, the Governor threatened a veto, apparently out of concern for the expiration of the power to toll the western Turnpike. Most legislators see this as a readily fixable issue and are slightly surprised by the veto threat.
We’ll see how things play out over the next couple of weeks. As of this writing, the bill is on his desk.
Note: I had offered an amendment opening up the books of the MBTA pension fund. This language did not make it into the transportation package, but language with the same effect (actually broader) did make it into the budget agreement.
I was pleased to see the legislature commit to meaningful funding for transportation in Massachusetts. I was even more pleased to see the Governor’s protection of the $800M funding level after elimination of the the Turnpike tolls. Very disappointed to hear of the legislature’s negative reaction to this. I have found the legislature generally to be reluctant to provide funding and rarely has the intestinal fortitude to commit to additional funding. I strong believe that the $800M funding level must be protected as the Governor has proposed.
I agree with you and have fought for a higher amount consistently — and successfully in the Senate. The toll issue is a relatively small one in the big picture and can easily be fixed, either as part of a final dance around this package or at a later date.
Will, I am hearing that part of this funding is tied to a gas tax. Some may look at the planned hike and say that it’s not a lot. My real concern is that it apparently is tied to the rate of inflation ! Is this correct? Does that mean that the gas tax will move up automatically?
Regarding the tolls, it may be a small issue for you…not for me ! I have been driving out to the Rt 495 belt every day for the past 30 years. Not everyone from your district travels to Boston for work.
Correct re the gas tax — 3 cent per gallon increase and indexing to inflation. Yes, it will go up automatically, but only as much general prices (not gas prices) go up.
Yes, I think a key idea about tolls is equity. It’s kind of a strange thing that Route 90 commuters pay tolls, but others don’t. They shouldn’t bear the whole burden.
I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the conversation about tolls — only to suggest that in the big picture of the legislative process, the toll increase that the Governor seeks to assure is something that could be address later in many different ways.
The FY14 budget, signed by the Governor on Friday, included a provision offered by Senator Brownsberger during the Senate budget deliberations to increase transparency of pension funds like (and including) the MBTA pension fund by subjecting them to the public records law.
The actual language (found here as part of the conference committee report: https://malegislature.gov/Document/Bill/188/House/H3538.pdf) reads as follows:
“SECTION 4. Section 7 of chapter 4 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after the word “purpose”, in line 137, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, the following words:- , or any person, corporation, association, partnership or other legal entity which receives or expends public funds for the payment or administration of pensions for any current or former employees of the commonwealth or any political subdivision as defined in section 1 of chapter 32.”
The Boston Herald published a piece today about this new measure: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_politics/2013/07/lawmakers_post_t_pension_info_quickly
Anne Johnson Landry
Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger
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