Legislature OK’s transportation finance package, but governor objects

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The House and Senate today overwhelmingly passed a transportation finance package that would provide an additional $3 billion over the next five years for road, transit and other infrastructure programs.
The governor, however, quickly issued a statement saying that he could not support the bill and expected to return it to the Legislature with an amendment. The reason, he said, is that he doesn’t trust the revenue streams that the bill counts on to reach its projected transportation investment numbers in the fourth and fifth years.
Legislative leaders said the amount of “new transportation resources” generated by the bill would start at $265 million for fiscal 2014 and grow to $805 million by fiscal 2018.
The bill would raise $448 million in additional tax revenue in fiscal 2014, with the new revenue reaching $598 million by fiscal 2018. The bill would also redirect funds from other areas of state government in order to increase the overall size of the package.
The new revenue would come from a 3-cents-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, an increase in taxes on tobacco products (including a $1 per pack increase on cigarettes), and new taxes on utility companies, software services and out-of-state corporations doing business in Massachusetts. The gas tax would automatically increase each year at the rate of inflation.
Legislative leaders said that one goal of the transportation finance package is to support the $300 million Chapter 90 bond bill for fiscal 2014 that the Legislature passed unanimously – and the governor signed – last month, so cities and towns can make desperately needed repairs to local roadways.
The decision about how much of the Chapter 90 funding to release is ultimately the domain of the governor’s office, however, and the administration said late last month that until there is a sufficient revenue package to support state transportation priorities, it would only commit to releasing half of the $300 million. So rather than seeing the 50 percent increase they expected in the reimbursement program – from $200 million to $300 million – cities and towns were handed a 25 percent cut, to $150 million.
Local officials and other stakeholders have been actively urging the administration to release the full $300 million, but the fate of the remaining $150 million is still in limbo at this time. The governor’s brief statement today did not mention Chapter 90.
Separate transportation finance bills passed by the House and Senate were sent to a conference committee on April 22. The compromise bill that passed today had been reported out last night.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 105-47 and the Senate by a vote of 34-6.
Written by MMA Publications Editor & Web Director John Ouellette