By Bob Katzen
The Senate 36-4, approved an estimated $16.9 billion bond bill authorizing spending on transportation projects and infrastructure. Provisions include $5.6 billion for federal highway system projects, $2 billion for the design, construction and repair of non-federally aided roadway and bridge projects and another $1.25 billion for construction, resurfacing and improvements of bridges and approaches. The package is a bond bill under which the funding would be borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds.
A controversial section of the bill allows cities and towns and regions to raise local taxes to fund transportation projects outside of Proposition 2½, which limits property tax increases in cities and towns.
The package also includes earmarks for hundreds of millions of dollars for hundreds of projects in legislators’ districts across the state—many of which will never be funded. The Baker administration is required to adhere to the state’s annual bond borrowing cap and ultimately decides which projects are affordable and actually get funded.
Sometimes a legislator will immediately tout the inclusion of local projects in these types of bond bills, especially in an election year to show he or she “brought home the bacon.” But be warned that none of the projects in this package have yet been funded and most will end up never being funded because of the borrowing cap and the power of the governor’s office to pick which projects actually get the green light.
The House has already approved an $18 billion transportation package which includes an estimated $522 million to $600 million tax hike to fund improvements to the state’s transportation system. None of the hikes are included in the Senate version.
Hikes include a 5 cents-per-gallon increase in the motor vehicle gas excise tax; a 9 cents-per-gallon increase in the diesel fuel tax; an increase in the aviation fuel tax from 5 percent of the average price per gallon to 7.5 percent of the average price per gallon; elimination of the sales tax exemption on vehicle purchases for traditional rental car companies; replacing the current flat $456 minimum corporate excise tax with a nine-tiered sliding scale ranging from $456 if the corporation’s total sales are less than $1 million to $150,000 if the corporation’s sales total $1 billion; and increasing the 20 cents-per-trip flat fee to $1.20 for each non-shared Uber and Lyft ride and $2.20 for every luxury ride. The bill includes language aimed at preventing Uber and Lyft from passing those hikes directly onto riders.
Supporters said the bill funds important transportation projects across the state and unlike the House version, does not raise taxes.
“In an increasingly hectic end to the fiscal year, I am pleased the Senate was able to pass this important piece of legislation to address many of the Commonwealth’s infrastructure needs,” said Sen. Michael Moore (D-Milbury). “The transportation bond bill is a comprehensive collection of many necessary improvements to our transportation systems from road and bridges to various modes of public transportation. During these increasingly difficult financial times it is critical that we continue to make investments in projects such as roads, bridges, sidewalks, and other various restoration projects throughout the commonwealth.”
Despite several attempts by Beacon Hill Roll Call, Sen. Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop), the Senate chair of the Transportation Committee, did not respond to requests to comment on the bill.
“Section 5 in the bill sets up regional taxation districts where they could change the sales or property taxes by region,” said Sen. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton). “This is a harmful concept for local businesses and residents. If their region decides to increase sales taxes, potential customers may look beyond these districts to shop for products. We should be working to give relief to our local small businesses during these challenging economic and public health times, not creating an extra barrier to success.”