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.

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August 12, 2016, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Los Angeles Harbor Freeway

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"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

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