Patrick Proposes Expanding Rail Service; Revenue Options Listed

By Fred Thys | WBUR | January 14, 2013

BOSTON — With the release of a long-awaited transportation financing report (PDF) on Monday, Gov. Deval Patrick is proposing to expand rail service across the state.

Patrick is endorsing a plan by the state Department of Transportation that would fund rail service from Pittsfield to New York, provide year-round train service to Hyannis, and build a commuter rail line to New Bedford and Fall River.

But the governor will have to make choices on how he suggests to pay for these services.

‘We Cannot Afford’ Current System

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey acknowledged that even without new projects, next year Massachusetts will pay half a billion dollars more for transportation than it will take in.

“The current system we have today, we cannot afford,” Davey said while addressing state and municipal officials at the University of Massachusetts Boston on Monday.

Davey said part of the problem is that the state still borrows money to pay for operating expenses.

“Mowing the lawn on [Interstate-93], we are paying for off the state credit card,” he said.

And Davey pointed out that the MBTA needs new investments.

“The Red Line is running cars that were built in 1969,” he said. “They are the oldest subway cars in the United States that do not have a retirement date.”

A Menu Of Revenue Options

To pay for all this, and for new projects, the Department of Transportation has laid out a list of options that would raise $1 billion a year:

– Instead of being taken down as planned, tolls on the western Massachusetts Turnpike would stay in place.

– A tax on miles traveled anywhere in the state could be imposed. A tax of 2.4 cents a mile would raise the entire $1 billion needed. Transponders would have to be installed on all vehicles for the tax to work.

– A third option would be a “green fee” — the more a vehicle pollutes, the higher the registration fee would be.

– The income tax could be increased. If it’s increased to 5.66 percent, that would raise the entire $1 billion needed.

– The sales tax could go up. If it goes up by 1.5 cents, that would raise $1 billion.

– Another option: raising the gas tax. A 1-cent increase would bring in $32 million a year.

– The Department of Transportation is also proposing a new payroll tax as an option. At .16 percent, it would cover the T’s entire $141 million annual operating deficit. Employers would pay this tax.

Patrick said the costs should be covered by everyone in the state.

“This is about every taxpayer, so I don’t think it ought to be a question of how to avoid who shares in lifting this burden,” he said. “This is a burden we all share.”

Patrick said he will choose from among these options. He’ll outline his preferences Tuesday, during the State of the State address. The details will come in his budget proposal next week.

This post was updated with the Morning Edition feature version. The audio above also includes an interview with Stephanie Pollack, of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.

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