Our opinion: Assuring wise, fair transportation funding

Wednesday February 6, 2013

The fate of Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to raise taxes to in part address the state’s long-neglected transportation needs is still to be determined, but what is clear is that the state has to more equitably distribute around the state whatever transportation money it has. A bill co-sponsored by state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, would help assure that this happens.

The Big Dig is the prime example of a Boston black hole where millions of dollars vanish, but transportation money is regularly tilted eastward inside the Route 128 belt. This legislation would require that transportation money be distributed equitably among the 13 regional planning associations. As Representative Farley-Bouvier observed in Tuesday’s Eagle, the state Department of Transportation has been floating bonds, which should be used exclusively for capital projects, to pay for operational costs like lawn-mowing and snowplowing, building up huge interest costs in the process. The bill would end this costly, counter-productive practice.

Undertaking transportation projects without setting aside funding for maintenance and modernization is a state and national problem, and the legislation would require guarantees that money be set aside for those purposes. Any project calling for an investment of more than $15 million would be required to have proven economic benefits and a guarantee that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Another bill, also co-sponsored by Representative Carl Sciortino, a Medford Democrat, proposes a voluntary vehicle miles-traveled pilot program in which drivers would potentially be taxed on where and how long they drive and how far they drive. The program would determine if such a system would be a better alternative than the governor’s proposed modest increase in the gas tax to help pay for the $800 million to $1 billion he proposes in new transportation funding.

The pilot program should go forward, although it is more complex than a simple hike in a gasoline tax that has essentially been stagnant for 20 years and not reflective of economic changes. The legislation mandating both funding fairness and funding responsibility, however, would immediately benefit the county and state.


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