While we lament that Bob DeLeo’s is the House Where Hope Goes To Die/Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, the Senate continues to do good and creative work — even in spite of, uh, recent distractions.
Sen. Eric Lesser has a Budget Amendment #1183 (keep track of all your favorites here!), which would allow for Regional Ballot Initiatives. This would allow the various regions of the state to raise their own funds for transportation projects … like Lesser’s beloved dream of rail from Boston to Springfield.
Lesser’s op-ed (with Tim Brennan, Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission):
RBIs would empower regions like the Pioneer Valley, the Berkshires and the Cape, as well as Greater Boston and beyond, to supplement their state and federal transportation funding dollars with local revenues to advance their unique regional priorities.
As our infrastructure continues to crumble and our local transit authorities continue to face budget cuts across Massachusetts, it is no surprise that advocates ranging from municipal leaders like Easthampton’s Mayor Nicole LaChapelle to statewide organizations like the Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies, Transportation for Massachusetts and the LivableStreets Alliance have come out in support of RBIs as a way to close the funding gap.
Ultimately, Regional Ballot Initiatives would save money by helping regional planning agencies, city and town governments, and construction contractors budget and plan for local projects ahead of time, instead of waiting on state or federal funds to decide their fate.
One could imagine TransitMatters’ plan for Regional Rail in greater Boston getting some life from this proposal …
Transportation funding always seems to hang on regionalism, the fear of folks on the Cape (e.g.) that they’ll have to pay for some Boston boondoggle; where Boston taxpayers retort (correctly, in my view) that we pay for the whole state’s highways and bridges that we don’t necessarily use. Regional equity is hard. This is a way to thread that needle.
I’m having a hard time figuring out how this would work absent a regional governing authority such as real counties. Who collects? Also how does this square with the constitutional requirement that revenues be raised uniformly throughout the commonwealth?
I’m torn on this. On one hand, this proposal would allow for regions outside of Boston to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. But it ignores the fact that this should not be necessary, especially in a state that is fairly Democratic and liberal.
The basic premise that it is unfair that Boston is “footing the bill” is a very conservative premise, one that is right at home with the modern Republican party. “I’m sick of paying for those people – why can’t they get off their lazy butts and pay for themselves?”.
This is a bad strategy because it treats regions within the state as independent from one another. But they’re not – what happens in Boston affects the entire state. When Boston and its suburbs start paying its teachers $70k a year to start, do you think that has no effect on the rest of the state? Of course it does – we are an open labor market, so this means that people in the rest of the state have to at least try to compete with that, even though we don’t have Boston metro taxpayers to support such levels of pay.
Lesser’s proposal would certainly give communities the ability to fight this regional dominance, but it would do so with provincialism. Are we better off as a state, or as 351 individual cities and towns which compete against each other?
Charley on the MTA says
Well, I think your framing is correct. What would the Cape (e.g.) be without a thriving Greater Boston? A hardscrabble set of fishing villages? (Some would prefer that, no doubt.)
But I prefer things that exist to things that don’t. If we’re at an impasse of regionalism with regard to transportation development, we need to find another way to get it done.
It seems to me that it depends a lot on what is meant by “region”.
The thread-starter suggests Mr. Lesser is interested in using this mechanism to fund rapid rail service between Boston and Springfield. That would involve something on the order of 10-20 cities/towns. I think that “region” is therefore larger a given city or town — there won’t be 351 regions competing with each other.
My only half-facetious answer to Charley (“What would the Cape (e.g.) be without a thriving Greater Boston?”) is “the West Hamptons”. Before the automobile, many people got to the Cape by rail, and many of those trains originated in NYC (rather than Boston).
My own sense is that the barrier to developing public rail transportation in Western MA and the Cape is resistance from those regions rather than a Boston-centric approach to public transportation.
It is ironic that the cited Transit Matters link proposes — quite correctly — that we essentially recreate the interurban streetcar network that connected southern New England a century ago. At least some of these are now linear parks and bikeways.
I’d like us to do more regional planning. I think this mechanism may be one way to fund some of that. One way or another, increasing regional public rail service requires increasing tax revenue. I don’t much care how that particular flavor of sausage is made so long as it gets made.