The Associated Press

Mass. Lawmakers Unveil Compromise Transportation Bill

BOSTON — State House and Senate negotiators agreed late Tuesday on a bill that would raise $500 million in new revenue, including hikes in gasoline and cigarette taxes, to shore up the state’s aging and debt-ridden transportation system.

A six-member conference committee announced the compromise after closed-door talks over the last two months. The House and Senate passed versions of the bill in the spring and the new bill now goes back to both chambers for up or down votes, possibly as early as Wednesday.

According to lawmakers, the measure would close a projected $118 million deficit facing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in the fiscal year that starts on Monday, heading off any need for further fare hikes or service cuts on the transit system.

The legislation would also end the practice of borrowing to pay the salaries of state transportation workers and requires the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to formulate plans for putting tolls on additional state highways, including those near the borders of other states.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called the compromise “a responsible and reasonable use of revenues” that would close a longstanding gap in transportation funding and support infrastructure improvements including expansion of the Green Line to Medford and commuter rail service to the South Coast.

“It does not offer a blank check to the Department of Transportation or the MBTA but instead holds the two agencies accountable for their own fiscal management and commitment to reform,” the Democratic leaders said.

A veto threat by Gov. Deval Patrick has hovered over the bill for months. In January, Patrick called for $1.9 billion in new taxes, including a hike in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. About $1 billion of the new revenue under the governor’s plan would have been dedicated to transportation.

The Legislature, however, approved $500 million in new taxes, including a 3 cent hike in the gasoline tax to 24 cents per gallon and a $1 increase in the tax on cigarettes.

Patrick said he would veto the House-passed version of the bill if it reached his desk, but later called the Senate version a step in the right direction.

The compromise unveiled Tuesday incorporates several elements from the Senate bill, including a pledge to dedicate an additional $805 million to transportation annually by fiscal 2018. It would also generate additional revenue by redirecting an existing 2.5 cents per gallon gasoline surcharge from the cleanup of underground storage tanks to transportation needs.

There was no immediate comment Tuesday from the governor or other administration officials on the conference committee’s bill. The administration has also expressed concern that lawmakers were setting unrealistic expectations for transportation agencies to raise revenue through future increases in fares, tolls or other types of fees.

Murray and DeLeo said they hoped the measure would be sent to Patrick’s desk and signed in a “timely manner.”

Lawmakers who took part in the negotiations promised the bill would address the state’s most pressing transportation needs.

“A modest increase in taxes will secure the financial stability of our transportation system, and by guaranteeing $805 million in new transportation resources we are securing our infrastructure and the efficiency of our future investments,” said Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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  • Dianne Shea

    Privatize M.B.T.A. management, stop taxing the low-middle class in Massachusetts. Raising the gas tax and cigarette tax to meet the needs of the “T” is asinine. Raise taxes on alcohol, there are more D.U.I. cases in Mass then ever before. Just because the politicians like their booze doesn’t mean it should be exempt from tax. Pretty soon Mass will look like Detroit, families will leave in droves because they can’t afford to live here thanks to our tax and spend democrats both in state and federal government.

    • J__o__h__n

      Alcohol is already taxed. It is just incorporated into the retail price. Why do you think NH sells it for less?

    • dust truck

      “tax and spend democrats?” What decade are you living in?

      This isn’t the 1980s anymore:

      a) Mass taxes have been lower than many other states since the 90s
      b) Democrats have spent less both at the national and state level than Republicans since the 90s.

      Admit it, you just hate taxes to go to anyone but yourself and the “too big to fail” banks.

  • Fred95

    That’s it, if this passes I’m moving my company to NH. Some of my peers I’ve been talking to as they’ve been rattling their saber of taxing computing development and cloud computing services over the past few years have indicated they will do the same if those sectors are taxed and it’s not being universally applied to all professional services groups.

    The MA Legislature will be the ones to blame as these businesses move out of state, some of whom will further increase their use of off-shore resources.

    Taxes can kill jobs.

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