Local-option transportation tax pitched on Beacon Bill

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

Pointing to a need for greater investment in transportation infrastructure, state lawmakers and local officials on Monday renewed an effort to allow cities and towns to ask voters to authorize a local tax to pay for transportation projects.

The bill (H 1640 and S 1551) would allow municipalities to join a regional district or act on their own to establish payroll, sales, property, or vehicle excise taxes to fund transportation. Voters in the city or town would need to approve the taxes. The bill would require the authorization for local taxes to expire after 30 years and would allow for an earlier sunset.

"It essentially lays out the procedures and it gives local control to these issues instead of waiting for the process through the state, which sometimes can take decades," Rep. Chris Walsh told the Joint Committee on Revenue. "It is used very effectively in other states ... we feel that this, basically, is a key mechanism to fund these capital projects for transportation." Walsh said the bill establishes a maximum amount that new taxes could be raised and creates a lockbox to ensure that the revenue raised for transportation is spent only on transportation.

Among those who testified in support Monday were the Brookline High School Environmental Action Club, Transportation for Massachusetts, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and MassINC. No one testified in opposition on Monday.

Steve Koczela of MassINC Polling Group said his organization has asked voters five times since 2012 about regional transportation ballot initiatives and has found "a remarkably and widespread and stable level of support for the idea." Across the polls, between 70 and 81 percent supported the concept, he said.