Massachusetts lawmakers near transportation funding deal

June 25, 2020

Keith Goble

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Solutions to short-term transportation funding needs in Massachusetts continue to drag into the summer. With the legislative year soon coming to an end, state lawmakers appear to be getting closer to a funding resolution.

The state Senate has voted unanimously to advance a bill to boost investment in local road and bridge projects. The bill, S2746, would also establish a new leadership board for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The transportation funding bill would pay for improvements to municipal transportation projects via $300 million in bonds. The amount is a 50% increase over Chapter 90 funding from one year ago.

Chapter 90 funding entitles cities and towns in Massachusetts to receive reimbursements on approved projects. It is a 100% reimbursable program.

“Through fully reimbursing vital capital projects, Chapter 90 funding is one of the most important ways that we can provide direct support to communities in the Commonwealth,” Sen. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, said in prepared remarks.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Boncore, D-Winthrop, added that the bill addresses immediate needs while the Senate continues to work on long-term improvements to the state’s transportation system.

“This $300 million investments will kick start the economy by financing critical local infrastructure projects to advance our statewide transportation system,” Boncore said.

House version

The Democratic-led House has also approved legislation to raise Chapter 90 funding to $300 million – up from $200 million.

Additionally, the chamber is urging their colleagues in the Senate to endorse a fuel tax increase to cover some of the spending increase.

Prior to the legislature shutting down due to coronavirus concerns, state representatives approved a major transportation funding bill to inject more than one-half billion dollars into the state’s revenue stream for road, bridge and transit work.

The legislation called for increasing the gas tax by 5 cents to 29 cents. The diesel rate would be raised 9 cents to 33 cents.

Masschusetts’ existing 24-cent excise tax raises about $770 million annually.

Revenue estimates show the gas tax increase would raise another $175 million per year. The diesel increase would raise another $32 million.

The amounts would cover two-thirds of the bonding covered through Chapter 90.

Governor’s alternative

Gov. Charlie Baker has said he is opposed to calls for a fuel tax increase. Instead, the Republican governor is pursuing a five-year, $18 billion bond bill touted to invest in the state’s transportation system.

Additionally, he continues to support the pursuit of a regional cap-and-trade program that could raise fuel rates up to 17 cents per gallon.

Other sources of revenue in the governor’s bill include raising fees for ride-hailing services, and raising corporate minimum taxes for the state’s largest companies.

Specifically, the capital plan outlines $10.1 billion for Massachusetts Department of Transportation highway division construction projects. Of that amount, $5.6 billion would be routed to federal aid highway construction and $3.1 billion would be designated for highway work not supported by the federal government. Another $1.25 billion would be applied for bridges and $150 million would be spent to pave area roads.

A resolution to get much-needed work done on roads and bridges must be reached before the end of the regular session on July 31.

More Land Line coverage of news from Massachusetts is available.

Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.