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MassDOT Head Addresses Proposals for Long-Term MBTA Funding

Plans for a $0.01 tax on vehicle miles traveled and other proposed funding measures are "hypotheticals," but "everything has to be on the table," said MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey.

Richard Davey, secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said that despite recent media reports, the state does not yet have specific proposals to help the MBTA climb out of its fiscal mess.

Speaking on the phone with Somerville Patch Tuesday, he said some proposals reported on by local media——in the past two days were "hypotheticals," but he warned that the need to find more revenue for the MBTA is real, and as that discussion takes place, "everything has to be on the table."

A letter sent Monday to Davey by the Federal Transit Administration regarding the application for federal funding said the MBTA needs to make "[c]onsiderable progress on gaining commitment of new sources of funding."

The letter outlines some of the state's proposals for that funding. They include transferring $1.6 billion of MBTA debt to the state, implementing a $0.01 per mile statewide tax on vehicle miles traveled and allocating casino gaming revenues to the MBTA, among others.

Davey said those ideas were put forth in the state's application to join the New Starts program, but they were hypothetical ideas. MassDOT used the "everything and the kitchen sink approach" to show the federal government that Massachusetts has options, he said.

"What we proposed is some hypotheticals in how to get the T's fiscal [situation] in order," the transportation secretary said.

"Bottom line is we really need to move from hypothetical to reality over the next 12 to 18 months," he added.

The MBTA faced a $161 million budget deficit this year, forcing it to —a process that is still ongoing. The T faces another $100 million budget deficit next year, Davey said at a transportation rally Monday.

What's more, "The T is really the tip of the iceberg," he said.

"At this point, just about every observer of transportation policy is acknowledging the problem exists," Davey said.

He added that "people are really starting to pay attention to this" and there's been a "tremendous groundswell of concern and focus."

"Ultimately, it's about jobs and economic development," he said.

Jonah Petri June 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM
If everything is on the table, then surely an increase in the gas tax should be as well. The VMT tax is a silly alternative to a gas tax increase, and misses an opportunity to promote efficiency and reduce emissions. That said, it's definitely better than most of the other ideas out there.
Somerville Home Owner June 13, 2012 at 01:47 PM
How do you enforce VMT tax without including miles driven outside the state?
Alicia Byrd June 13, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Since we don't currently tell the state how many miles we drive how would they collect the information and tax us?
KEN D... June 13, 2012 at 05:30 PM
So we pay to register the car, pay excise tax, and gasoline tax. Now on top of that they are considering charging 1 cent per mile driven? Even though I rarely use the T, I am expected to pay for it when I drive my car? What about the person who lives in say, Ashby Mass? They have no public transportation available at all. And they also will be expected to pay 1 cent per mile to drive their car so that someone in the Boston area can get a cheaper ride? I think it's time to raise rates on the T sufficient to cover the funding gap.
Jonah Petri June 13, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Hi Ken, I agree that the proliferation of different types of taxes is confusing and aggravating. Even though the total amount is small, it feels like a lot because there's so many different types of taxes. However, to give my personal opinion on your question: I think there's a ton of redistribution going on in all directions. That hypothetical guy in Ashby is getting (mostly) free highways to drive on (both state and federal) which cost much more to build and maintain than his town's tax contribution could ever hope to offset. That money comes from, in no small part, the income taxes levied on the people living in the densely populated areas of the state. And those free roads are the only appropriate transportation solution for Ashby, just as comprehensive public transit is an essential element of transportation in Boston. All that said, I don't think that the VMT tax is a great solution, for the reasons I stated in my earlier comment. I'd prefer congestion taxes in Boston, followed by tying the gas tax to inflation.
Somerville Home Owner June 13, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Jonah: well said, and I agree (except I'm not sure about congestion taxes). Ken: One way to think about it is that we *all* need to pay into infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and public transit. It doesn't matter how much you use it directly as an individual. As a member of society, you are benefiting from its existence and use by others in society. Without proper infrastructure, businesses and government could not function properly. For example, if NYC was unable to properly fund its subway system, it would hurt everyone in this country (one way or another) even if you never visit NYC. Wall St is a crucial part of our economy, and if people couldn't get to work, that would be a HUGE problem for the entire country.
Somerville Home Owner June 13, 2012 at 08:47 PM
They could easily collect it during inspection sticker renewal. (I'm not advocating this approach or VMT taxes though.)

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