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Spilka Successful in Adding Protections for Tollpayers and Taxpayers in Transportation Finance Reform Bill

April 13, 2013

(BOSTON) – Today, as the Senate debated and passed major legislation to reform the state’s transportation finance system, Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) successfully advocated for several amendments that address the issue of transportation and taxpayer equity for residents of MetroWest and the entire Commonwealth.

“This comprehensive bill addresses our critical infrastructure and transportation needs without overburdening our residents and working families,” said Spilka. “Investing in our state’s transportation and infrastructure systems is vital to the quality of life of our residents and the economic vitality of our communities. By passing a number of the amendments I filed, we will help adequately fund these systems without unfairly burdening isolated parts of our population or requiring certain citizens to pay more because of where they live.”

The bill passed by the Senate solves the immediate and long-term structural deficits at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority by dedicating more than $800 million in new revenues for transportation and provides approximately $100 million or more annually in new tax revenue over the next five years that can be used for other critical investments such as education, housing, or other human services programs. It also sets annual savings and efficiency benchmarks that the DOT must meet as part of their operating budget.

Spilka added a provision to the bill to prevent the DOT from avoiding reaching these benchmarks by raising tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike to pay for their operating expenses.

“For too long, the greater 495/MetroWest region has been disproportionately affected by the transportation decisions of the Commonwealth. Commuters who drive on the Turnpike already bear a heavy burden in paying for investments and projects in Boston,” said Spilka. “This provision prevents the DOT from looking to the wallets of our region’s residents and commuters to fund their operating costs.”

Current protections for tollpayers were also at risk in the original bill. The Senate passed an amendment filed by Spilka that removed language that would have allowed for toll dollars to fund road projects all throughout the state.

“I am pleased that I was successful in striking out the language that would spent the money paid by MetroWest residents and MassPike commuters on roads in other parts of the state,” said Spilka. “This will keep protections in place so that Turnpike commuters will be able to benefit from the improvements their tolls are funding.”

Spilka was also successful in securing a provision to the bill that gives Massachusetts the opportunity to do what many other states already do – toll the interstate highways at the state’s borders. Putting tolls at the borders will generate new revenue and call for out-of-state drivers to contribute to the maintenance of the roads on which they are traveling.

The Senate’s bill undertook the difficult task of finding a way to fund a world-class transportation system without hurting the middle class residents of the state. This bill makes that possible for our roads, bridges and public transportation, but additional investment in our public infrastructure and in the programs and services our citizens need to prosper is needed.

“The conversation about raising revenue fairly and thoughtfully – in a way that meets the needs of our society without hurting struggling individuals and businesses – must continue,” said Spilka.

To accomplish this, Spilka led the charge to establish a Tax Fairness Commission. The Commission is tasked with analyzing the effect of the entire federal, state, and local tax systems on the changing income and wealth of Massachusetts residents over the last few decades. The Commission will consider changes to the tax laws and the effects they would have on residents at various levels of income.

“This Commission will evaluate our current tax system and make recommendations in order for us to have the most equitable and adequate system of taxation, one which supports our residents, helps us grow our economy, and generates sufficient revenue to invest in the important programs and sectors vital for our sustainability as a Commonwealth for generations to come,” Spilka continued.

The Senate’s plan dedicates additional transportation revenue above the joint plan unveiled earlier this month through combined tax and non-tax revenues and savings.  These include: requiring MassDOT to enter into leases and right-of-way agreements with telecommunications and utility companies, generating an additional $40 million, and by redirecting an additional $80 million from an existing surcharge on gas from the General Fund to transportation.  During today’s debate of the bill language was also included to allow the MBTA to raise revenues for capital expansion projects through selling or leasing naming rights to stations throughout the transit system.

Additional transportation-related tax revenue dedicated to supporting the transportation system includes:

  • “Own source” solutions, calling on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) to maintain their share of the budget they generate through revenues and savings.  The Senate plan also guarantees that this requirement will not lead to exorbitant fees, tolls, and fares;
  • Gas tax increase of 3 cents, indexed for inflation beginning in FY2015; and,
  • Dedication of all motor vehicle sales tax revenue to transportation.

This additional funding is paired with a call for increased accountability, establishing goals for the Highway Division to reduce fatalities, accident rates and commuting times and for the Mass Transit Division to reduce the age of bus fleets and to increase the share of operating costs covered by fares by 10%.  The Senate also called for increased transparency by making MBTA Retirement board pension information available on open checkbook.

Additional amendments Spilka was successful in advocating for include:

  • Giving the disabled commuter representatives, currently non-voting member, on the state’s Regional Transit Authorities Advisory Boards voting power;
  • Adding a commuter representative to the Regional Transit Authorities Advisory Boards, increasing participation by bringing more voices to the table;
  • Establishing a collaborative regional transit plan to implement performance measurements for the state’s Regional Transit Authorities, ensuring services are provided in an efficient, effective, and accessible way, taking into account the needs of the region, business community, and commuters; and
  • Requiring the DOT to study the feasibility of establishing in-state vehicle repair maintenance facilities for the state’s mass transit vehicles, which are currently shipped out-of-state for maintenance, to keep economic activity and job creation related to these repairs in Massachusetts.

The legislation also generates $165 million through a $1 per pack increase on the cigarette excise tax and $161 million by modernizing the tax code on computer system design services and standardized software while not taxing “the cloud”.  Additional revenue is also achieved by making changes to the tax status of utility companies and joining twenty one other states in updating market-based sourcing rules across all industries.  These changes will generate approximately $600 million in new tax revenue over the next five years to replace revenues dedicated to transportation and fund additional investments in the Commonwealth.

The Senate bill and the House bill, which passed Monday, will go to a conference committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the Governor.

 

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