As we turn the corner on 2014 and on eight years of the Patrick administration, transportation stakeholders in Massachusetts wonder what 2015 and beyond will bring five years after the creation of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. In November, Massachusetts voters chose to repeal the portion of the Commonwealth’s 2013 Transportation Finance Law that indexed the Commonwealth’s motor fuel tax to inflation. They also elected Charlie Baker our next Governor. These two events combine to make 2015 an important year for transportation in the Bay State.
The initiative process was established by Amendment Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution as a way for citizens to propose laws and constitutional amendments for approval by the electorate. In November, voters repealed a portion of the 2013 transportation finance law that called for the motor vehicle fuel tax to be “adjusted at the beginning of each calendar year, by the percentage, if any, by which the Consumer Price Index for the preceding year exceeds the Consumer Price Index for the calendar year that ends before such preceding year“, but in no event below 21.5 cents per gallon
The consequence is that the Commonwealth will have a reported $1B less than it expected to have over the next ten years for our transportation program. Since the current program was built at a time when the index was the law, the Commonwealth must now adjust its priorities and program to match its revenue projections. As is so often the case with policmaking, it won’t be all about the worthiness of the projects. It will be about priorities and budgets. And those priorities and budgets will be determined by the incoming Baker administration. Hard choices lie ahead.
We have not heard the last on transportation financing in Massachusetts. Legislative leaders have often said that it is an issue that must be considered each year. And many would say that last month’s vote was less about transportation finance and more about making certain that votes are taken when taxes are raised. Fair enough. But that doesn’t take away any of the difficult choices that the new administration faces in transportation. It also doesn’t mean that new transportation revenues will be back on the table anytime soon.
As we turn the corner toward a new administration, what’s next for Massachusetts transportation? Revenue will not be front and center again for a while. The new year will, however, bring more focus on several important issues – more private sector involvement in the construction and delivery of infrastructure such as we have seen with commuter rail stations, more public-private partnerships, more focus on the use of data to drive decision making, and, of course, more hard choices.
Happy New Year.