With formal legislative sessions concluded for 2015-2016, now is a good time to reflect on the transportation bills that made it into law, and those that came up short in the end-of-session scramble.
From the perspective of transportation advocates, the preceding 2013-2014 legislative session featured a milestone law, the Transportation Finance Act, which was followed by a setback at the ballot box in November 2014, when gas tax indexing was repealed. Since transportation is a long-term challenge, many observers expected the 2015-2016 session to be quiet on this front. Yet from the outset, those expectations were upset: starting with the historic winter of 2015 that crippled our public transportation network, and continuing with many transportation proposals to solidify progress on policy and reform. There is a lot to recap!
Before do, we first would like to thank the legislative sponsors and co-sponsors of the many bills that we supported; the Governor, who signed into law several pieces of legislation that will move our statewide transportation system forward; and our advocacy partners, including hundreds of people who reached out to state legislators to support key bills.
First, let’s look at what was achieved.
- The FY2016 Budget established the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board, a major shift in governance that has further enabled the Baker Administration to focus on the MBTA, and placed management mandates on the T. The FMCB has provided an unprecedented public focus on the governance, management, operations and finances of the state’s largest public transportation agency.
- The Municipal Modernization bill included language allowing cities and towns to set lower speed limits, and/or establish “slow zones” as a local option. We know that speed is a contributing factor to crashes and the severity of injuries. The law also includes language that provides cities and towns with more flexibility to manage their public parking assets, with dynamic (i.e., demand-based) pricing allowed, and parking benefit districts defined to encourage community investments, and a wider range of uses permitted for parking revenue.
- After a multi-year fight, including threats (and the reality) of double-digit MBTA fare increases that led to a fare cap in the 2013 Transportation law, there is now unambiguous language limiting MBTA fare hikes to seven percent every two years, including all fare types and monthly passes. This language was included in the FY 2017 state budget, and the House and Senate rejected the Governor’s amendment.
- At the end of the session, a compromise bill that regulates transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft became law. In addition to regulating TNCs, $0.20 of every ride will support local transportation projects and technical assistance to the taxi industry for the next few [JO1] years. A new state agency will oversee TNCs, while a task force will examine outstanding issues related to TNCs and taxis. Technology-driven changes in mobility will only continue in the years to come.
- A transportation bill with multiple provisions became law at the end of the session. We were thrilled that language modifying the popular Complete Streets program was included to ensure that the program maintains its effectiveness, while being suitable to a variety of cities and towns. The law also authorized a $50 million, five-year program to support the reconstruction of small bridges that are not eligible for federal funding. Finally, the law exempts rail enhancement bonds from the state’s bond cap. These important bonds finance vital expansion investments in our transportation system.
- The Economic Development Bill authorized hundreds of millions of dollars for the MassWorks infrastructure program, a major component of which is grants for transportation improvements that will spur private development.
We supported the following provisions that made progress this session, with more work left to do in the next session:
- The Fair Share Amendment would provide funding for transportation investments through a 4% tax surcharge on incomes above $1 million. It passed overwhelmingly during a Constitutional Convention in May; it must get at least 50 votes at another ConCon in the upcoming session, then be approved by voters in November 2018 to become law.
- Transit Benefit Equity is a critical bill that would equalize state tax benefits between those who drive and park, and those who take public transportation. The federal tax code was recently fixed thanks to the leadership of Congressman McGovern, but the Massachusetts tax code needs a similar change. This bill was reported favorably by the Joint Revenue Committee. It will certainly be filed again next session, and we are optimistic about its passage.
- Prohibiting parking in bike lanes statewide. This important safety bill passed in the House, and it is possible it will continue to advance during informal sessions this fall.
- Regional Ballot Initiatives enabling language was included in the Senate’s version of the Municipal Modernization Bill, and reported favorably out of committee, but was not included in the final bill. Common in other parts of the country, this would allow cities and towns to bring transportation proposals directly to the voters.
- Community Benefit Districts language made it to the Governor in the Economic Development bill but we were disappointed that he vetoed it from the bill. CBDs would complement the existing Business Improvement District framework by enabling public/private/nonprofit partnerships to steward welcoming and vibrant downtowns and town centers.
- A bill sponsored by Chairman Straus of the Joint Committee on Transportation would enable further Value Capture strategies to finance transportation projects with state-local partnerships, and was included in the House’s Economic Development legislation, but not included in the final bill. Sometimes called Value Sharing, this funding mechanism helps to pay for transportation improvements with the resulting increase in nearby property values.
- Zoning reform legislation was passed in the Senate. After many years of limited progress, this was a significant achievement that provides momentum for next session. Zoning and transportation are closely linked; our current zoning regulations are 40 years out of date, and contribute to suburban sprawl with resulting demands on our transportation network.
- A pilot program to investigate the feasibility of a Vehicle Miles Travelled, or VMT-fee to either supplement or replace the gas tax as this tax loses dollar value, was in the transportation bill, but unfortunately the Governor vetoed it. Other states are looking ahead to ensure transportation revenue, and so should we.
Unfortunately, state funding to our 15 Regional Transit Authorities has not kept pace with need, and were level funded for FY17 after a small increase in FY16. Evening and weekend service is limited as a result, and many communities have inadequate service. We will continue to work with regional transit supporters, legislators and the administration to support funding needed to help RTAs better serve residents all across Massachusetts.
We support transportation legislation that will help make Massachusetts ready for tomorrow's economy and our statewide and local needs, legislation that protects our climate and creates a more just commonwealth where everyone has access to opportunity; and legislation that spurs innovation and reflects forward-looking potential of Massachusetts.
Sometimes legislation introduces big ideas that will transform transportation; sometimes it tinkers with today’s patchwork. Progress is often incremental. In the coming months, we will be developing policy proposals for the coming session, and we want your ideas and suggestions.
Would you like more information about the bills described here? Do you have ideas for policy priorities that our coalition should take on next session? We welcome your input, so please be in touch: reach out to Policy Director Charlie Ticotsky at [email protected] or (781) 354-5155.