Evan Falchuk on Transportation and Smart Growth

Transportation for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance invited all candidates for governor to complete a questionnaire on important issues that will require leadership from the next governor.

1. What are your transportation investment priorities across the commonwealth?

Evan Falchuk: It is critical to view transportation investment priorities in the broader context of housing, land use, transportation and environmental protection. State policy must be geared towards aligning the interests of cities and towns and the private sector with the public interest of smart growth. My transportation investment priorities are reflected in the Falchuk-Jennings Thriving Communities Action Plan, which I have attached to this questionnaire.

In particular, we embrace the opportunity and responsibility to reshape the landscape of Massachusetts into a state that is more affordable, more dynamic, more forward-looking, and more sustainable. A smart set of transportation investment priorities is a critical component to a comprehensive policy of ensuring that at least ten thousand units of multi-family housing are built each year. This is the minimum needed to address the serious imbalance of housing supply that is making the cost of living so high; with the alignment of interests that would result from these policies, even the more realistic (and challenging) housing needs projections of 305,000 to 435,000 will be within reach.

Tackling the skyrocketing cost of living in Massachusetts is the most urgent problem we face. A root cause: our broken housing market. For years, supply has failed to meet demand, resulting in significant cost increases that freeze many people out of the market – and sometimes out of the Commonwealth – and squeeze so many others who spend far too much of their hard-earned pay on rent or a mortgage.

Housing is a jobs issue. Extensive economic research shows that housing production is a necessity for future job growth, yet a misalignment of state government policy with local reality has severely limited housing production in Massachusetts.

Housing is also a family issue. Almost all seniors want to “age in place,” staying as long as they can in their own homes or neighborhoods. Young people and families also need homes they can afford. Many in both groups want to live a short distance to services and amenities.

These facts have been known for many years, but it will only be achieved through a true partnership between the State and our cities and towns. Current state policy does not give housing advocates the tools they need to enact local policies to produce more housing. These years of inaction, however, mean an enormous opportunity for new jobs, a more affordable cost of living and sustained economic growth. State policy must provide local advocates for housing and smart growth with the tools they need to secure these local zoning changes, and break the development deadlock.

The Falchuk-Jennings Administration will work with the Legislature to empower cities and towns, as partners, to plan for the production of tens of thousands of new homes through five core, pro-growth policies:
 Empower cities and towns by making it in their financial best interest to develop new housing.
 Broaden the Safe Harbor from 40B developments for communities that enact significant local zoning reforms allowing as-of-right housing, with Safe Harbor extensions as housing is built.
 Minimize frivolous lawsuits that block development of needed housing.
 Enhance the profit motive for new private investment in down market areas, historic buildings, and redevelopment, while supporting communities affected by gentrification.
 Improve inter-agency coordination of planning and infrastructure spending among State agencies, and expand professional capacity of municipalities to plan and grow.

We have the opportunity to transform the landscape of Massachusetts, by driving growth, lowering the cost of living, and expanding economic opportunity throughout the Commonwealth. With policy changes that empower cities and towns to create visionary development plans to meet the housing needs of every generation, we can increase the supply of housing for tomorrow’s workforce and an aging population, create jobs, and unlock the economic potential of so many cities and towns – and help taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned pay in the process. We can make it easier for young people and families to live here and seniors to age in place, while protecting our environment and improving our schools.

For many years the state has systematically under-invested in its transportation infrastructure. The Transportation Finance Act of 2013 took important steps to address this problem, but left substantial shortfalls. The Falchuk-Jennings Administration will work with the Legislature to ensure there is sufficient funding to support our needed transportation investments. In addition, we must work at the highest levels to ensure the coordination of state agencies to eliminate inefficiencies and duplication and to leverage Federal dollars in the most targeted ways to drive smart growth. In this respect, I am calling for reinstating the Office for Commonwealth Development, with cabinet-level status, in order to hard-wire coordination among the State’s transportation, housing, economic development and conservation agencies.

By gearing state policy towards smart growth we can reach “mode-shift” goals, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide a framework for sustained economic growth.

2. The Transportation Finance Act, passed in 2013, dedicates an average of $600M a year in new transportation revenue to our transportation system through FY18. Experts such as the bipartisan Transportation Finance Commission estimate that we need double this level of investment to bring our transportation system into a state of good repair, nevermind making the capacity improvements needed to support future economic development. How would you, as Governor, work to ensure adequate and stable funding to meet our needs?

Evan Falchuk: We need to pay for the government we say we want. A look at the 20th century, and the 19th, and so on, will illustrate that America’s investment in the public infrastructure has always paid off.

Vital to the success of these kinds of initiatives is building broad-based public support and consensus around the importance of these investments. The great missed opportunity of the 2013 Transportation law was the failure – from the beginning – to build that kind of consensus. In particular, the Governor announced his plans in a way that was a surprise to the leaders of the legislature, as well as the public, making the job of building this consensus, around funding in particular, inherently more difficult and therefore less likely to succeed. The result is a transportation law that did not secure financial commitments that go far enough to truly address our transportation investment needs. Achieving the alignment of interest needed to transform the landscape of Massachusetts requires the kind of leadership that seeks to build consensus around important priorities.

There are four ways in which we can ensure adequate and stable funding to meet transportation needs. First, reallocating state spending. There are significant amounts of unnecessary and wasteful state spending, including for example large tax breaks to large corporations, as well as wasteful and duplicative spending in our state’s budget. If only 3% of the state’s budget could be reallocated away from these unnecessary expenditures that would mean $1 billion dollars per year in additional available for this kind of investment.

Second, the state must provide sufficient grant funding and other resources to help cities and towns participate in innovative financing mechanisms, including I-Cubed, DIF, BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) and the recently enacted Local Infrastructure Development Program; and in general remove the existing “barriers to entry” for our cities and towns and, in appropriate instances, private sector partners, to make use of these “tools in the toolbox.” In addition, we must partner with municipalities and coordination with regional planning, transportation and transit agencies, to improve the transparency of the Federal Transposition Improvement Plan (YIP) process to improve coordination of these critical Federal dollars with actual private investments in housing, mixed-use and economic development projects on the ground.

Third, we must ensure that the gas tax remains in place and indexed to inflation, as well as consider additional financing mechanisms, including for example tolling at border crossing.

Finally, aligning the state’s interests in housing production, with transportation investments and support to the cities and towns will lead to increased economic growth, which will lead to increased revenues to the state.

3. Do you support the commonwealth’s mode-shift goal to triple the number of trips made by biking, walking and public transit by 2030? If so, what will you do to help the state meet this goal? If not, what are your suggestions to increase trips by public transportation, biking and walking?

Evan Falchuk: Yes.

Just as we look at some of today’s challenges of symptoms of an underlying cause, we see this mode-shift goal as a stated cause which only obliquely addresses the underlying objective. That objective is “smart growth,” “traditional neighborhood design,” “new urbanism” – whatever one prefers to call it. If we maintain our focus on this underlying objective – really, this policy framework – we believe we can meet and achieve this mode share goal. And, because investments in non-vehicular infrastructure can be cost effective relative to, say, a new interchange, we, working with municipal public works and highway department partners, will supplement large scale investments with smart, strategic investments in targeted improvements to the public realm in Massachusetts’ communities. We will also restore State attention to and funding for structured parking, which we recognize as an important ingredient in many communities’ revitalization and redevelopment efforts, and one that has been largely abandoned in recent years despite a strong track record of demonstrated public “return on investment” in years past.

4. Public transportation investments and development around transit stations are critical to the growth of Massachusetts. But an often unwanted side-effect of gentrification is displacement of long-time residents. What policies would you implement to help minimize displacement, especially of low-income and disabled residents?

Evan Falchuk: We will work to provide cities and towns with the tools to protect families, especially seniors, in gentrifying areas. The Falchuk-Jennings Administration will propose a local-option property tax deferral program for households meeting eligibility criteria in gentrifying areas. In participating communities, qualifying homeowners would be able to defer payment of property tax until they ultimately sell or transfer their home. Especially for people living on fixed incomes, this would protect them from the unintended consequences of rapidly increasing property values, and associated tax burden. In addition, producing large amounts of additional housing will help boost supply and moderate house prices, thereby expanding alternatives for those affected by gentrification.

Finally, we must work to keep fares affordable on the MBTA and regional transit authorities. This would include for example creating fair structures that protect low-income transit riders, having fares that vary based on income, age, distance or time of day, and capping fare increases on regional transit.

5. What steps will you take as Governor to reduce greenhouse gases from transportation sector and through smart growth to reach the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets required in the Global Warming Solutions Act?

Evan Falchuk: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a positive byproduct of a comprehensive smart growth policy. Ensuring that development dollars are channeled to district-scale smart growth zones (both 40R and others), will reduce reliance on fossil fuel-based transportation and increase the extent to which people walk, bike, or use public transit. Achieving the aggressive 2050 targets can be best achieved through this combination of forward-thinking planning.

These kinds of reductions are inherent aspects of our Thriving Communities Action Plan, and the implementation of that plan is designed to achieve those results. We also support the diversification of transit options, for example by working with regional transit authorities to ensure development is connected to commuter rail, MBTA and other public transit systems, as well as encouraging the use of bike sharing, car sharing and other services such as Lyft to reduce the demand for automobiles. We recognize the fledgling and in some cases well-established use of Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) as a way to provide alternative means of transportation in outlying areas, and will continue to support these efforts during the critical start-up and organizational phases so they can achieve financial and operational self-sufficiency through public/private and inter-governmental partnerships.

I applaud the State’s current rebate program for buyers of electric and hybrid vehicles, the governor’s investment in electric buses and most recently the eight-state pact Massachusetts has joined to boost the visibility and use of electric vehicles.

One of the reasons Massachusetts has done so well on its energy goals is because of regional cooperation, particularly RGGI. We need more goals based on a shared vision of the future, and we’ll need the commitment of the Governor, legislators, businesses and the people to set bold goals and get them in motion.

6. To make Massachusetts more livable and successful, we would encourage the next Governor to break down agency “silos” and organize her or his cabinet to collaboratively establish and achieve economic, housing, transportation, environmental, public health and climate goals. How would you organize the executive branch to achieve these cross-cutting goals?

Evan Falchuk: We must reinstate an Office for Commonwealth Development in order to hard-wire coordination among the State’s transportation, housing, economic development and land conservation agencies. Just as local permitting best practices call for designation of a single point of contact for development-related questions, the Commonwealth will lead by example by restoring the Office for Commonwealth Development to cabinet-level status. This resource will also facilitate two-way communication with cities and towns. The Falchuk-Jennings Administration will provide a forum within which good ideas can be heard, discussed and debated – all toward that ever-elusive consensus which, though not always the outcome, will always be our goal. In addition, this Office will, in coordination with the Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) and all State agencies with real estate holdings, undertake a systematic approach to identify surplus State-owned property with development potential, in order to make these developable sites available for smart growth initiatives.

7. Do you support the commonwealth’s goal of building 10,000 new units of multi-family housing each year? If so, how will you accelerate the state’s work to encourage new housing? How will you ensure that this housing doesn’t contribute to sprawl? If you do not support this goal, what are your plans to meet our housing needs in the coming years?

Evan Falchuk: Yes. This is a primary focus of our Thriving Communities Action Plan. As described in the plan, aligning the interests of cities, towns and the private sector with state policy will make possible this level of housing production.

All housing producing in Massachusetts is produced either through zoning or through 40B developments. Many cities and towns have created zoning that all but ensures that new housing production ends up being on large lots in sprawling developments; there is virtually no land zoned today that would allow multi-family housing as a matter of right. Changing this development pattern requires comprehensively changing our approach to housing production. The state’s 40R ‘smart growth’ zoning law provides a mechanism for denser housing production, but state incentives have not supported its wide-scale adoption. By providing sufficient support to cities and towns through growth-neutral education funding and appropriate infrastructure funding will help drive the production of this kind of housing. In addition, broadening the “safe harbor” from 40B for those communities that establish advanced zoning plans which allow for significant growth as a matter of right – subject to infrastructure certification and locally adopted standards – is an important step. This safe harbor should be tied to the process of zoning, and not solely on the production of housing as cities and towns cannot control the pace of private market development. The fact that only a half dozen or so of the 114 adopted Housing Production Plans are actually certified by the State as being in compliance is evidence of a mismatch between State expectations (through the Housing Production Plan framework) and what a city or town can actually implement. Unfortunately, this is also known to have marginalized local housing advocates in some communities who have secured support for the adoption of such plans – on the promise to their townspeople that it would result in “control of 40B” – when in fact very few communities have been able to achieve certification beyond an initial 1- or 2-year safe harbor provided by a single larger (typically 40B) development.

8. What reforms would you like to see to the commonwealth’s outdated planning and zoning laws? How would your administration encourage or incentivize municipalities to plan for future growth and development and then update their regulations to allow for that to occur?

Evan Falchuk: I hope the currently pending zoning reform law passed. It is important that our zoning law are updated as they have not been for many decades, and the current proposal reflects untold hours of work by parties on all sides of these issues. It is also important that the process of modernizing our zoning laws continue based on lessons learned during the initial years of implementation of these new reforms or other developments. With that said, even with the passage of zoning reforms this session, much more work will be needed to ensure that the Commonwealth actually produces the amount of housing – and, by extension, jobs – that we need. Incentivizing municipalities to plan for future growth and development is inherent in our Thriving Communities Action Plan.

9. In Massachusetts, 1 in 8 households do not have a car. People living in these households depend on public transportation. In certain parts of Boston and other cities, there are only limited public transportation options, and this is particularly true in many of the commonwealth’s low-income communities. In rural communities, residents often have such limited public transportation service that people, especially seniors, are housebound. What would you do to try to address these mobility needs? How will you start to prepare for the very significant growth in the transportation needs of seniors?

Evan Falchuk: We must continue to invest in Regional Transit Authorities in order to ensure that people across the Commonwealth have access to affordable, reliable public transit. We must also encourage the development of regional Transportation Management Associations (such as the recently-established Crosstown Connect, and more established programs based in Andover and elsewhere), which allow for creative public/private (and, in some cases, solely private) mechanisms for deploying small-scale transit solutions.

10. As Massachusetts has developed over the last 60 years, our homes and jobs have sprawled further and further apart. We have lost farmland, forests and other natural areas. What are your goals as Governor to protect and preserve land?

Evan Falchuk: Focusing state policy on smart growth will reduce the incentives for sprawl and protect green space, farm land, forests and other nature areas. The protection of our environment is one of the critical reasons for our Thriving Communities Action Plan.

In order to honor Article 97 of our Massachusetts Constitution, we will establish land conservation and preservation goals working closely with non-governmental organizations. Certainly, we will benefit greatly from the latest research in the Losing Ground series, and will take into account recent research by The Nature Conservancy and others, in establishing appropriate, aggressive, and implementable goals for conservation and preservation of open land.