The State House Looks to Transportation

The Congress of the United States has taken most of the media attention in the last few weeks, but in Massachusetts the new Legislature was sworn in yesterday, with both Speaker Robert Deleo and Senate President Therese Murray re-elected to their respective posts. Congratulations to all the members, especially the new members. They will have their hands full.

In the opening speeches given by the Leaders the issues of transportation, infrastructure, and gun safety and control were placed front and center. Both leaders will not announce Committee assignments for another month or so, but the Speaker gave notice of his intent to re-appoint Rep. William Strauss to the chairmanship of Transportation. Rep. Strauss, in separate comments, acknowledged the need for new revenues to fund our transportation infrastructure:From the State House News Service:

Raising revenue for the state’s underfunded transportation system has to be part of the discussion, Straus said. “My own feeling is if we are going to make the kind of investments in keeping our transportation up to date that everyone across the spectrum needs, I don’t know where within the current revenue stream in state government you can find the money,” Straus said. “It has got to be part of the discussion. I don’t know what the outcome will be. But the Legislature and the public need to have a revenue discussion.”

The Governor is due to present the Legislature with some ideas on that subject within the next week or so. Whether the Governor comes in with a hard and fast recommendation, or presents the Legislature with a menu (a la carte)is still up in the air, but we will soon know the answer to that question. Rep. Strauss understands that the financing shortfalls in transportation run very high.

Straus said the needs could be larger than what the public can stomach. “The administration has identified an annual unmet deficit in transportation funding of over $1 billion a year. I don’t know that the public or the membership would be willing to look at revenue numbers that high on an annual basis, but that’s the kind of figures – in the hundreds of millions of dollars – that needs to be raised in order to meet the state of repair for the transportation system,” Straus said. “The other thing about raising the revenue is that to the extent the revenue, the source of it is tied to the transportation system, so that in a sense the people who use the roads, use the rails, who use the airports are the ones who are asked to pay for it, that may also be important to the members and the public.” Asked what he would look for in a transportation financing bill, Straus reiterated the broad points House Speaker Robert DeLeo made from the rostrum on Wednesday. A “fair” distribution of transportation resources throughout the state, the importance of maintaining a safe transportation system, and the necessity of transportation for a strong economy will all be weighing on Straus, he told the News Service.

The Rep. is of course correct. The full dimensions of the problem are contained in the report of the so called State Transportation Finance Commission issued several years back. But what the Legislature can stomach, and what vehicle is recommended for raising revenue, will be key political components moving forward. I personally think that the Speaker’s call for “regional equity” in how new transportation revenues are distributed is a key substantive and political piece of the equation. New revenues that substantially benefit only Boston will be difficult to swallow for many members.

I have attached below the remarks of the Senate President and the Speaker. And whatever we do please make no reference to any “Massachusetts transportation cliff”. Thank you!

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