Gov. Baker Looks Toward California and Oregon While Vetoing Mileage Fee Pilot Program

A bill to provide $750 million in road and bridge financing was signed by Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday after stripping a provision to apply for a federal grant to conduct a pilot program similar to the California Road Charge Pilot.

August 12, 2016, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


Los Angeles Harbor Freeway

biofriendly / Flickr

"The Massachusetts Legislature sent Baker a road and bridge funding bill with a provision directing the administration to apply for federal funding to test a new tax on drivers based on miles traveled," reported Shira Schoenberg for The Republic/Mass.Live. "Baker signed the bill on Wednesday, but, as expected, vetoed the pilot program."

"There's disappointment, because all it is is a request for a grant so that we can pilot as was done in Oregon, to see how it would work in Massachusetts and whether we thought it would be a good policy here," said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, in a July 31 article by Schoenberg which indicated the governor's likely veto. "So we're leaving federal money on the table."

"Baker said the gas tax structure is fair because it rewards people who drive more fuel-efficient cars," adds Schoenberg. "He noted that people generally drive more when gas is cheaper."

Both observations are true, and should encourage leaders to increase the gas tax to ensure proper funding for road infrastructure. However, to illustrate how difficult that can be, Massachusetts voters supported a statewide petition in 2014 that eliminated "the automatic, annual indexing of the 26.5-cent gasoline excise tax to inflation."

A vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee ensures that fuel-efficient and electric vehicles pay their fair share for roads regardless of the price of gas.

"Baker said he thinks Massachusetts can learn from the experiences of those states without running its own pilot program," adds Schoenberg. "He said transportation officials in Massachusetts have other priorities."

"Let's see what we can learn from the folks who are doing this in other states," Baker said.

Those would include Massachusetts' two neighbors, Connecticut and New Hampshire, which joined the I-95 Corridor Coalition to apply for the grant from the same federal program that the bill targeted. It also includes Pennsylvania, which has the nation's highest gas tax, almost double that of Massachusetts.

The article goes into additional reasons for Baker's opposition to a VMT fee, which the bill would not have imposed. Even the 5,000 participants in the California program do not receive "real" bills; they are simulated. But since the governor is so strongly opposed to the concept of a mileage fee, why study it, even if it wouldn't cost the state any funds?

An earlier editorial in The Republican urged Baker to veto the pilot program provision.

No doubt this is a setback to those in the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance. However, it should also prove encouraging for those who believe raising the gas tax is the best way to increase transportation funding.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 in The Republican

Brooklyn Redevelopment

Study: Market-Rate Development Filters Into Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing

New research sheds new light on one of the most hotly debated questions in planning and development.

September 15, 2021 - Full Stack Economics

Los Angeles, California

The End of Single-Family Zoning in California

Despite a few high-profile failures, the California State Legislature has approved a steady drumbeat of pro-development reforms that loosen zoning restrictions. The state raised the stakes on its zoning reforms this week.

September 19, 2021 - Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

The city of Siena in Italy, located on a hillside and bathed in Tuscan sunlight.

Building on Jacobs: The City Emergent; Beyond Streets and Buildings

A science of cities reveals the way cities grow, and why.

September 20, 2021 - Fanis Grammenos

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Case Study Posted on HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.