To Fund Transportation, Leaders’ Plan Would Raise Gas, Cigarette Taxes

BOSTON — After months of behind-the-scenes work, legislative leaders on Tuesday unveiled their response to Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to boost state spending on transportation and education by nearly $2 billion. But the Legislature is headed down a less ambitious path.

Just before Beacon Hill leaders announced their plan, dozens of transportation advocates rallied for the governor’s plan outside the State House. They were led by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

In this 2011 file photo, a commuter train leaves the MBTA station in Andover. (AP)

In this 2011 file photo, a commuter train leaves the MBTA station in Andover. (AP)

“Fix it now. What’re we gonna tell them? Fix it now,” Curtatone said, leading the crowd in a chant.

But a few minutes later, Curtatone and crew were disappointed by what they heard at a press conference inside. Legislative leaders proposed only half the new transportation spending the governor called for and no new revenues for his education plans.

“We cannot and don’t believe that we can further squeeze the middle class,” said Senate President Therese Murray, joining House Speaker Robert DeLeo and key committee leaders to detail their response to the governor’s plan.

“And while we need to invest now, like we do every year, we need to do it in a way that does not bankrupt the current generation,” she said.

The implication: Gov. Patrick’s proposal to raise $1.9 billion in new revenues, including a 1 percent hike in the income tax, went too far. Instead, the leaders’ plan would raise the gas tax 3 cents per gallon. That’s relatively modest when compared to the 21-cent tax the state already levies on gas.

They would hike cigarette taxes by $1 dollar per pack — fairly hefty, but popular with the public in general and health advocates in particular. They would also raise some $250 million in new taxes on businesses.

Speaker DeLeo said the goal was to raise $500 million in new revenue while spreading the burden.

“Most people recognize that we need a transportation system that works,” DeLeo said. “Yet we also recognize that Massachusetts is still struggling to emerge from the financial downturn.”

The leaders touted the reforms their plan would enact: within three years, the state transportation department would be able to stop borrowing money to pay for salaries and operational expense. That would free up new bond money for infrastructure investments. The MBTA’s budget deficit would be cleared up within five years, and according to Murray, a fare hike could be averted this year.

Regional transit authorities outside of Boston that have to borrow money while they wait for state allotments would start getting paid up front. And state support for local road projects — so-called Chapter 90 funding — would increase by 50 percent to $300 million.

Transportation advocates who’d been enthralled by the governor’s vision were deflated. Kristina Egan, who directs a coalition called Transportation for Massachusetts, called the plan inadequate.

“We could look at about $800 million to a billion dollars being the need, but it’s certainly not $500 million,” Egan said.

Administration officials were careful in their reactions, saying they needed to review the proposal before making a full response. But Education Secretary Matthew Malone did say he was concerned about the leaders’ apparent intent to forego any new revenues for education — a big contrast with the governor’s proposal to add $900 million to the education pool.

“I’m concerned that education is not at the forefront as equal with transportation,” Malone said.

At the same time, he added that he believes lawmakers are still open to the governor’s arguments about the urgent need for education investment. He should find out just how open they are next week, when the leaders will release their full state spending plan for fiscal 2014.

This post was updated with Morning Edition feature content.

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  • J__o__h__n

    Raise the gas tax the same percentage MBTA fares have increased since the last time the gas tax was raised.

    • X-Ray

      Just because the MBTA is incompetently run we should increase the statewide
      taxes to support it? Raise gas taxes in Boston.

  • http://nancib.wordpress.com/ BostonPeng

    Excuse me, but smokers get taxed enough as it is. Why do we have to pay an extra tax for transportation funding? I get that Murray and DeLeo are obvious anti-smokers (they’re probably former smokers as well, but that’s another issue) but why do they think it’s a good idea to shove yet another tax bill on us when tobacco has so little to do with transportation?

    • dust truck

      Cuz smokers are a demographic that won’t be able to push back. Otherwise they’re all going to lose their job come next election.

      • Jasoturner

        Yep. Plus many smokers are physically addicted, so the state knows they may be unable to choose to avoid the tax by quitting.

  • Lennie

    The state has not built any transportation that is convenient for me to use to commute to and from work or even into the city. It would be one thing if convenient transportation service was provided to me and i chose not to use it, then sure, tax my bad habits But since no such service is available why am I being penalized for having to use my car? At least use the money from extra gas taxes to fix the roads not to subsidize transportation.

    • Kaj Kandler

      Well, at least you benefit from the other people not crowding the road with you.

      • Lennie

        Not exactly. Those people who “crowding the road” with me are in the same situation and do not have an alternative to driving.

  • Thinkfreeer

    These people are living in a fantasy world. Do you really think that smokers will continue to let themselves be raped by the state legislators or the governor? I forget what year it was, but after suffering years of being treated like a second class citizen as a smoker, standing outside in the cold or heat, and in some cases actually standing on the “No Smoking” painted on the sidewalk, the state raised the cigarette taxes steeply. No, thank you. I am not a victim of your insane schemes. No tax money from me. I am tobacco free. Don’t give me your empty congratulations. You do not care about me. You care about you. I did not wish to stop smoking. I wished to quit paying money to people who use the force of law and guns to extract what they think they need, from the seemingly weakest members of society.

    • wayne

      This is so true

  • Jasoturner

    Gasoline tax makes complete sense, and it’s a mystery why it’s treated like a third rail. Another few cents per gallon to keep additional drivers (and the associated roadway wear and tear) off the road is a smart approach. And drivers are not going to notice. As it is, we see price swings all the time and carry on without incident.

  • X-Ray

    Gov. Patrick seems to have taken a lesson from his friend in Washington;
    spend, spend, spend, even if you don’t have the money. If the money is lacking
    just propose tax increases. He terms the new spending as an “investment” but
    offer no hard figures or analyses to show that it will have a positive return.
    Further, the transportation projects have something in common, a link to Boston.
    It seems more a sop to the city than a development for the State.

  • Kaj Kandler

    I think a good transportation system is important. However, one of the main (short term) problems I see with MBTA use is parking. I see some stations parking lots full at 7AM – 7:15AM. that essentially means that people can’t take the T if they don’t need to be in the city early. That is lost revenue and utilization of the system.

    I also see the bus system only available to people that do considerable research to use it. Stops are not clearly marked, have no schedules or maps where buses are going. No shelter (which can pay for themselves by providing space for advertisement). Again, a loss of revenue and utilization that can be fixed with little money and quickly.

    If you travel around the world, you can see cities with excellent transportation systems that have well marked stops, electronic boards announcing arrivals of each bus (like in an airport) in the transit points, night service and service that connects (the bus in the suburb waits until the train has pulled in – especially at night). Not to mention that vehicles (buses, trams and trains) are quiet and accelerate and stop w/o jerks (are comfortable to ride).

    However, I think all this needs to be done with modest funds (and increased efficiencies). A 2 Billion tax hike as proposed by the governor is not a good idea.

  • Ian

    Bad policy and worse politics. All this does is fix the way we’re currently paying the bills, so that we’re not going deeper into the hole. This money won’t buy a single new T train or bus, or fix a single structurally deficient bridge. Lawmakers will get the heat for raising their constituents taxes but not enough to have anything useful to show for it. If this passes, we’ll be back debating this issue in another 4 years — or sooner if something tragic happens on our crumbling infrastructure.

  • wayne

    As usual,let the disadvatage pay, every estimate done to date says the poor are the smokers in this country,what up with this?

    • http://nancib.wordpress.com/ BostonPeng

      It’s another case of they don’t care about the smokers, and if they’re also poor it’s even more reason for some to not care. They talk a good talk about wanting to help the poor and needy, but when it gets down to actually doing anything they see poor smokers as a perfect group to work against. Part of that is due to the absolutely bogus numbers spread about second hand smoke, even though the numbers themselves have been proven to be garbage (http://www.joejackson.com/smoking.php), but they’re numbers the pols can vote against so they do.

      • CherryValance

        If they don’t care about you then why are they trying to force you to quit smoking those stupid things by raising the taxes? They’re hoping at some point cheapness will kick in and you’ll inadvertently stop poisoning yourself. In the end you’ll save money when you quit and you’ll probably live longer.

        • http://nancib.wordpress.com/ BostonPeng

          I’m reminded of a phrase about flies and honey. You can do a lot more with requests than a baseball bat upside the head, and unfortunately smokers keep feeling like it’s batting practice and we’re sitting on the tee.

  • Crusty

    The streets should be paved in gold the way they have taxed gas.

  • Paul Lang

    No need to go overseas to see decent bus systems. Riding buses in New York and Philadelphia quickly demonstrates far better service to the riding public. From lumpy streets to decayed bridges to Cold War bus and rail, Boston and Eastern MA transportation is and will remain a disgrace thanks to DeLeo and Murray.

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