The legislature could increase the gas tax by a few cents in public transit territory cities and towns, and uses it to pay for public transit capital expenses. More below the fold.
First, some quick and dirty math:
1. Statewide, each penny in gas tax brings in about $33M per year. [chart on page 2 of t4ma.org shows $100M per 3 cents]
3. Putting (1) and (2) together, every $0.01 of gas tax in the MBTA region generates about $24M, if every person in the Commonwealth consumes the same amount of gasoline per year.
4. The condition on (3) is probably not right. I couldn’t find gasoline consumption per capita per county for MA. It might be possible to back this information out using DOR data. If someone can find it, please post it. Thing is, even if non-MBTA region consumed twice the gasoline per capita, it would only reduce that $24M/penny/yr to $19M/penny/yr. So until somebody finds better numbers, I’ll assume $20M/penny/yr.
5. The MBTA budgets about $1.25B per year for capital projects [page 3 of MBTA CIP FY15-19 (pdf)].
Now, here’s my proposal:
A. The legislature approve a gas tax increase of X cents/gallon, to be assessed only in MBTA communities, with the revenue going toward MBTA capital projects. I would think an X of 3 would be small enough to ensure that border community gas stations don’t get whacked by people driving out of the region to buy gas. I mean, some people might drive to save 3 cents, but most won’t, and it’s not like gas prices are the exact same at differing stations anyway.
B. The legislature approve a gas tax increase of X cents/gallon, to be assessed only in non-MBTA communities with their own local transit agencies, with the revenue going toward those local transit agencies capital projects. The MBTA ain’t the only game in the Commonwealth, and the citizens in other transit agencies would also benefit from the cash infusion.
Here’s why I like it:
I. The transit agencies need the revenue. We know they have backlogged capital expenditures, and we know that spending capital money will result in improved schedule adherence, fewer accidents, more comfortable vehicles, and the ability to expand service routes and frequency of service on existing routes.
II. The transit agencies benefit from multiple funding sources that vary for different reasons at different times, because it means that their total annual revenue stays a bit more constant, allowing for better planning and budgets closer to balance.
III. It’s good politics. You MBTA people want a better T? Fine. You should help pay for it. The good folks (few in number, but all good) in the rural parts of Massachusetts wouldn’t have to contribute more to a system from which they perceive deriving little benefit.
IV. It’s good public policy. The people who live in the MBTA region have, to more or less extent, more transportation options. Therefore, they both (a) have an easier time avoiding the tax, and (b) benefit more from a better operating transit agency, whether they drive or ride transit.
V. It’s a measured and appropriate response to the results of Question 1, which was a vote against an automatic increase in the gas tax, but not in fact a vote against an increase of the gas tax itself. As a side note, Boston and inner suburbs opposed Q1, whereas the 495 communities favored it [source].
VI. To be clear, an additional $60M on a $1250M annual capital budget isn’t going to be a game changer. This isn’t going to turn the MBTA experience into that of Disney World. But, it is enough to pay for 100% of the signal upgrades and station upgrades envisioned over the next five years, for example. It’s real money, and it would really help create a future with a steadily improving MBTA.
So, there it is. Raise the gas tax a few pennies in cities and towns with public transit service, and use the tens of millions of dollars per year to fund capital improvements for the public transit agencies across the Commonwealth. It’s not a panacea, but it will have measurable benefits without asking more from the public-transit-less communities and without asking very much from the communities who benefit from public transit.
<i>P.S.</i> I’m not sure I did “the fold” correctly. Could an editor kindly (i) ensure that most of this post is below the fold (before the “quick and dirty math”), and then (ii) delete this portion of the post, since it will no longer be applicable?