House Passes Transportation Finance Bill
Legislation targets transportation system problems, requires money be expended on South Coast Rail
(Boston) - On Tuesday, the Legislature approved H3382, “An Act Relative to Transportation Finance”, to deal with the structural deficits of the Commonwealth’s transportation system. Additionally, language was added by amendment requiring future capital project funding through the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) be expended on the South Coast Rail project. The bill, which will raise $500 million of new revenue through gas and cigarette tax in effort to shore up the state’s beleaguered transportation system, is the House of Representatives’ response to Governor Deval Patrick’s revenue package that would levy more than $2 billion in new taxes.
State Representative Christopher Markey (D- Dartmouth) illustrated the differences that compelled both he and a majority of his colleagues to support the House proposal. “Obviously, any tax increase that is proposed has to be scrutinized very carefully. The Governor’s plan is noble in its purpose, but I feel that the House proposal, without being unduly burdensome on the taxpayers, takes care of the ‘credit card’ mentality that we’ve inexplicably operated under for far too long”, Markey said. He pointed to the fact that many salaries in the State’s transportation system are being paid through borrowing. He added, “We’re being asked to pour money into projects that will depend a great deal upon the stability of the organizational infrastructure, and that infrastructure is being supported by money it doesn’t have. It’s not what I would consider a safe investment for taxpayer funding.”
Markey cited the work of State Representative William Straus, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation, for his work to get language submitted relating to the South Coast Rail project. “Everyone in the local delegation has been pushing hard for this, but Bill went to the mat to make sure that this project received the proper attention. He’s been a great advocate for the project in the Legislature, and a great resource for me as well”, Markey said. Chairman Straus’ amendment required that the MBTA “shall expend funds on capital investment projects, including…the south coast rail project, that are included in the authority’s 5-year rolling capital investment plan as published in accordance with section 5 of chapter 161A of the General Laws”, setting a firm requirement for the expenditure of funds for the project when the project is ready to proceed.
While many have fixated on the lack of language regarding South Coast Rail in the version of the bill prior to amendments, Markey feels that the more important issue of permitting is being overlooked. “Two billion dollars could be dropped out of a plane tomorrow, and we’d still be prevented from piercing the ground with a shovel for at least 3 to 5 years”, he said. “While I share his dedication to this project, there are eleven outstanding permits that need to be secured for any substantive work to begin. These permits don’t take days or months. They take years, and I believe the Governor needs to direct more of his efforts to obtain that critical component of the project. “
According to Markey, using the transportation funding appropriated in this bill toward solving the system’s fiscal problems helps set the stage for South Coast Rail funding for the long term. “Taking salaries off the credit card and addressing other shortcomings will help turn more than $200 million back toward transportation projects like South Coast Rail on an annual basis. If you struggling to pay your credit card bill, you wouldn’t build an expensive addition to your home. It is bad practice for a homeowner, and it’s worse practice for the Commonwealth”, Markey said. He added, “We are all pushing for South Coast Rail, but we need to take a sustainable and reasonable path.”