Testimony before Chairwomen Gale Candaras and Chairman Jay Kaufman and members of the Joint Committee on Revenue
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) is a non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy organization with members across the state. We are submitting this testimony in support of several bills aimed at increasing our public transportation infrastructure through an increase in the gas tax. These bills include HB 796, HB 1676, and HB 2564.
As you know, our entire transportation system is facing a severe crisis. While the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) recently experienced its highest public transportation ridership levels, our transportation system is splitting at the seams. Old trains are breaking down and need to be replaced, roads and bridges across the Commonwealth are in a state of disrepair, and demand for more bus routes is at an all-time high. Sustained high public transportation ridership would result in cleaner air, less dependence on oil, and less congestion on our roadways. But without a significant investment in our transportation system, none of these benefits can be realized.
The legislature took bold steps to address the problem by enacting transportation reforms and streamlining the Commonwealth’s transportation agency. While some immediate benefits from reform have already materialized, our state’s overwhelming transportation needs are locked in a financial crisis and must be addressed.
One solution to the problem is additional new revenue. Several of the bills before the committee today propose to increase the state gasoline tax, and to support our transportation system by directing gas tax revenue to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the Regional Transit Authorities (RTA), and our entire transportation system. A gas tax is an efficient way to fund our transportation needs.
The MBTA has a crushing $8 billion debt burden, as well as nearly $3 billion in deferred maintenance needs. The RTAs have grappled with increased energy costs that have resulted in fare hikes and service cuts. Across the state, residents and lawmakers want public transportation expansions and investments in bicycle and pedestrian projects, but these expansions and investments are unable to move forward because there is simply not enough money.
Without action to address its debt, the MBTA will have to increase fares and to cut service. It will continue to defer maintenance and be forced to make the Hobson’s choice between offering service and providing a safe and affordable transportation system for the millions of travelers it serves each year.
Investing in public transportation benefits every Massachusetts resident by reducing traffic delays and carbon emissions, and getting us to where we need to go. Every person on the subway, bus, or commuter rail is one less automobile clogging our highways, using foreign oil, causing accidents, and making auto insurance more expensive.
In these difficult economic times, it is critical that we make careful investments in the future of the Bay State’s economy. We at MASSPIRG appreciate the hard decisions that you and members of the committee have made, and we look forward to working with you to address these critical transportation funding issues.