By Bob Katzen
The senate 40-0, approved an estimated $46 billion fiscal 2021 state budget that uses $1.5 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help cover expenses. The budget increases spending by 5.5 percent over last fiscal year’s 2020 budget. The Senate added $36.1 million in additional spending during two days of debate. The package also includes a controversial amendment that would allow abortions after 24 weeks in the case of lethal fetal anomalies and lower the age from 18 to 16 that a minor can choose to have an abortion without parental or judicial consent.
The budget also includes an amendment that raises the current flat 20 cents per ride tax paid by Uber, Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) to a percentage of the cost of the ride as follows: 3 percent of the costs of a pooled ride that has more than one rider and 7 percent of a ride by a single person. The 7 percent fee is reduced to 3 percent if it is a zero emissions vehicle. All three fees can go up another 3 percent if the ride is during rush hour. That would bring the single ride up to 10 percent and the shared ride and single ride of a zero emissions vehicle up to 6 percent.
Under current law, the companies pay the tax and are prohibited from passing the cost along to the rider. The amendment allows the cost to be passed along to the rider.
Currently, the state distributes to cities and towns 50 percent of the revenue, based on the number of rides from the previous calendar year that originated within that city or town, to address the impact of TNCs on municipal roads, bridges and taxis. It also uses the same formula to give 25 percent to local small businesses operating in the taxicab, livery or hackney industries. The remaining 25 percent is kept by the state in the Commonwealth Transportation Fund that is used for transportation projects and needs across the state.
The amendment lowers from 50 percent to 25 percent the percentage of revenue that goes to cities and towns; triples the state’s share from 25 percent to 75 percent and eliminates the 25 percent given to local small businesses operating in the taxicab, livery or hackney industries.
There was no roll call vote on the amendment. It was approved on a voice vote. No members of either party stood to request a roll call vote. It would have taken a total of only four members to request a roll call.
Supporters said the increased revenue is needed in order to help improve and modernize the state’s infrastructure and transportation system, including the MBTA.
“While the pre-pandemic needs of the MBTA may be different than they are during this public health crisis, we must ensure that the we continue to adopt long-term policies that will make our transit system safe, accessible, and reliable,” said the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Joe Boncore (D-Winthrop). “The Senate took a holistic in moving forward policy that will alleviate congestion, reduce emissions, and direct more revenue to our transportation system.”
“The language adopted in the Senate budget modernizes the fee structure for TNCs,” continued Boncore. “Massachusetts was among the first states in the country to regulate TNCs. By updating these policies, we can help direct more funding to public transit through the Commonwealth Transportation Fund and by generating revenue directly to municipalities.”
“It’s noteworthy that California voters just repealed further regulation of ride-sharing services on the November 3 ballot by a 17 percent margin, while the Massachusetts Senate just imposed further burdens on companies like Uber and their customers with tax increases,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “It’s usually California that leads the way with nonsense while Massachusetts soon follows in lockstep. When it comes to taxing businesses and residents most, as always, Beacon Hill legislators strive mightily to be number one. I guess we all should just keep driving our own cars.”
Sen. Mike Rodrigues (D-Westport), the chair the Senate Ways and Means Committee is proud of the $46 billion budget. “Under difficult circumstances because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am proud of the Senate’s ability during these last two days to meet the moment, engage in respectful debate, take action to protect our most vulnerable and set the commonwealth on a path toward an equitable recovery,” said Rodrigues. “The Senate has taken important steps this week to confront the unprecedented challenges brought on by this public health crisis and pass a fiscally responsible budget plan that further protects access to childcare, health care, housing, public transportation and economic opportunity.”
“The state budget was passed after the election, even though there was plenty of time to debate the merits of the budget before the election,” said Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, “This was done to protect lawmakers from taking tough votes before voters go to the polls. As we have seen with the budget, and this is just the beginning, they want to raise taxes and the cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts. The reason for this is because they refuse to reduce their spending and think money grows on trees. They continue to increase spending, borrow money, and raise taxes and fees, leaving the next generation on the hook for how to get out of this mess. Taxpayers should be very careful.”