WHILE HOUSE SPEAKER ROBERT DELEO plans to advance a transportation revenue bill within the next few weeks, Senate President Karen Spilka is taking a more cautious approach, and might not follow suit if the House does act on a tax bill.
After meeting with DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Spilka would not commit to actually voting on a bill to raise more money for transportation improvements this session, though she did say she thinks more revenue is needed.
Sen. Joseph Boncore, the Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee, and Sen. Adam Hinds, the Senate chairman of the Revenue Committee, are “looking at potential short-term recommendations as well as long-term recommendations,” Spilka told reporters. Hinds has previously said that he is taking a holistic look at the state’s taxation regime overall.
But despite her interest in funneling more revenue into transportation, Spilka would not commit to taking up a transportation revenue bill if the House passes one.
“I’ve consistently said, ‘We’ll see what the recommendations are of the chairs, and what’s the will of the senators,’” Spilka said. “I believe that we do need more revenue, so we will be taking a look at it.”
In contrast, DeLeo is still committed to moving a transportation revenue bill before the winter recess, even though that leaves the House with less than three full weeks to act. Under the state’s constitution, tax bills must originate in the House. Taking a vote to raise taxes can cause political blowback, and some House members would likely want assurance that real policy outcomes would be gained by taking the risky step of voting for higher taxes.
Earlier this year, on the Codcast, Boncore agreed with his House counterpart, Rep. William Straus, that transportation revenue bills should be taken up this session.
“It’s tough to take those votes going into an election cycle, but I think we’re prepared to and we understand we have to,” Boncore said on the podcast, which aired last spring.
Baker, who could play a substantial role in shaping the upcoming transportation revenue debate, has favored pursuing a multistate approach that would use a pricing mechanism similar to, but distinct from, a gas tax. The regional approach that would put a price on carbon in gasoline and diesel fuels would be a “more competitive way to deal with this” than a big gas tax hike, Baker said.
DeLeo, meanwhile, has sought input from the business community on how to proceed, and last week the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce endorsed a 5-cent increase in the per-gallon gas tax over each of the next three years, for a total of 15 cents. Baker thinks that would be too large a tax increase.
“I don’t see us supporting a big increase in the gas tax, no,” Baker said when asked about the idea. “But these guys have a debate to have and a lot of work to do, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Baker also indicated he continues to oppose the idea of automatically raising the gas tax with increases in inflation. In 2014, he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito campaigned for the successful repeal of a law that would have done just that.
“I think both of us have made pretty clear how we feel about indexing,” Baker said on Monday.