I am stoked that the powers that be are talking about a major transportation investment. DeLeo mentioned it in his press release; Terry Murray has mentioned it; and according to her the DOT will soon make recommendations to the legislature. All are saying the solution won’t be limited to just the MBTA; other regional transit operations will be involved, and hopefully properly funded and improved.
Patrick has made transportation a top priority this year, and the Legislature has developed a consensus that something needs to be done to address an estimated shortfall of about $1 billion a year to maintain the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, regional bus systems, and state highways. Murray, in her speech, plans to cite significant needs, including a $2.2 trillion (??? typo?) backlog of infrastructure projects at the MBTA.
But she does not specifically endorse a tax increase. Instead, she notes that the Legislature had previously demanded “reform before revenue,” which sparked a 2009 overhaul that eliminated the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. She said that change, plus an increase in the sales tax that staved off toll hikes and MBTA fare increases, helped the state “overcome some of its most immediate problems” with its transportation system.
“It is now possible to envision a better future for the Department of Transportation, where it was not before,” she plans to say.
We also heard old friend Jim Aloisi on WBUR this morning, saying that transportation revenue should the be source of transport funding; and rather unhelpfully talking up his old tracker plan whereby motorists would be taxed per mile driven. Not gonna happen.
The better way to fund this stabilization and improvement would be through the income tax. The state’s transportation infrastructure is about as universal a public good as it gets; it’s a necessity for everyone, and everyone benefits from its improvement. The income tax is a perfectly proper place to go for those funds.
I would also support an increase in the gas tax, though naturally there’s resistance. For one, anything that discourages driving big, inefficient, polluting vehicles is to the good. But even a 10-cent tax means that a 15-gallon fill-up would cost an extra $1.50 — not much — with respect, even for those who live in rural areas. Compare that to the amount that T fares have risen over the last few years, and it’s really not much. T riders are people who are not sitting in traffic, and creating much less pollution and CO2. (This is true, even though Aloisi said it.)
You have to make choices. The wrong choice is to let things wither on the vine, as we’ve been doing.