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.
"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.
The Right to Mobility
As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.
Bend Eliminates Parking Minimums
The city is complying with an Oregon state mandate that some cities have challenged in court.
Scottsdale Cuts Water Supply to Nearby Suburb
The city claims it has no responsibility to provide water to the unincorporated Maricopa County community.
Utah Could Eliminate Parking Requirements Near Transit
A proposed state bill would bar cities from requiring parking in areas adjacent to transit stations in an effort to make housing production more affordable and encourage walking and transit use.
Where Pandemic Bike Improvements Won Out
While some cities are reverting back to pre-pandemic street configurations, others are taking advantage of the momentum for bike and pedestrian infrastructure to make pandemic-era projects permanent.
Atlanta Transit Plans Stall Due to Budget Concerns
With MARTA facing a potential billion dollar shortfall, the agency says it can’t fulfill its system expansion plan.
HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research
Harvard GSD Executive Education
Harvard GSD Executive Education
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.