Do the math, Senator Brown | Conservation Law Foundation

Do the math, Senator Brown

Melissa Hoffer

Thursday, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown sent a letter to Governor Patrick criticizing  the Governor’s mention of a potential state gas tax increase as one of the ways to provide additional revenue for the state’s dangerously underfunded transportation system. Yesterday, in response, 23 individuals and organizations throughout the State, including CLF, sent letters to Senator Brown and Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray to urge an open and frank dialogue about what it will take to build and maintain the safe, reliable and affordable 21st century transportation system Massachusetts needs. The letters also pointed out that, contrary to Senator’s Brown’s statement that “Massachusetts motorists already pay a higher gas tax than the national average,” Massachusetts drivers actually pay 41.9 cents per gallon in combined local, state and federal taxes—about 15 percent lower than the national average of 48.1 cents per gallon.

Getting to the heart of the matter, let’s do the math.  In FY11, the State raised about $2.2 billion for transportation. Those funds came from registry fees ($500 million), motor fuel taxes ($662 million), and the general state sales tax ($1.1 billion). Another $313 million in tolls was collected and more than $451 million in transit fares. Local governments contributed about $150-200 million as local assessments supporting transit (low compared to the national average). Massachusetts qualified for $294 million n federal transit funds and about $600 million in federal highway funds in FY11.

Yet, highway capital needs for the next five years ($6.16 billion) are more than twice the available resources ($2.5 billion). The 2009 D’Alessandro report, requested by Governor Patrick, estimated that the MBTA state of good repair backlog is $3 billion and will require an annual expenditure of nearly $700 million simply to prevent system deterioration. And, we all know when we put off needed repairs, things only get more expensive to fix later on down the road.  The MBTA carries a debt of $5.5 billion (not including interest), and debt service—interest payments—constitute nearly 22% of the MBTA’s FY12 budget—the agency’s second single largest expense. The bottom line? Massachusetts’ transportation system is broke—and that’s about to get worse, as Washington is poised to cut dramatically transportation funding to states.

What do the numbers add up to? A threat to the State’s—and the region’s—economic competitiveness, quality of life, and environment. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation, and the obvious answer is that we need to increase transportation funding for roads, bridges, transit and pedestrian and bike ways. But that’s not enough. We’ve also got to get much smarter about how we spent those funds.

The people of Massachusetts need better ways to get around, including options that will help reduce global warming pollution, consistent with the States’ own Global Warming Solutions Act mandate. CLF is working to find a solution. Yesterday, CLF joined with more than 20 other organizations throughout the State to formally launch Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA), a coalition dedicated to advocating for alternative financing and improved accountability in building a modern transportation system that works for Massachusetts. T4MA brings together a broad cross-section of groups, from transportation and regional planning interests to affordable housing, public health, environmental justice and smart growth organizations, that all have a stake in reforming transportation in Massachusetts. Learn more about T4MA here.

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