Ben Forman testifies before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue
In support of “An Act Relative to Regional Transportation Ballot Initiatives” (H. 1640)
Below is MassINC Research Director Ben Forman’s testimony in support of regional ballot initiatives to fund transportation projects in Massachusetts. Ben testified before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue on April 10, 2017.
Joint Committee on Revenue In support of
“An Act Relative to Regional Transportation Ballot Initiatives” (H. 1640)
Research Director, MassINC
Monday, April 10, 2017
Thank you Chairman Kaufman, Chairman Brady, and members of the committee for this opportunity to testify in support of H. 1640, An Act Relative to Regional Transportation Ballot Initiatives.
Seven years ago I co-authored a MassINC report looking at options to generate revenue for the multi-modal transportation network we need to support economic growth in our Commonwealth. MassINC research on options to generate revenue for the multi-modal transportation network we need to support economic growth in our Commonwealth identified regional ballot initiatives as a time-tested model that many other states have employed successfully. As state and federal infrastructure funding has become more and more scarce, regions that are able to generate revenue locally to meet their needs have a definite competitive advantage. With our knowledge economy highly dependent on talent—and infrastructure contributing greatly to quality of life, which is so central to attracting and retaining talented workers—this is an advantage we can no longer afford to cede.
MassINC’s support for regional ballot initiatives also relates to a second major challenge we face today: generating more geographically balanced economic growth. In the face of increasingly varied economic contexts across the state, more than ever we need the ability to tailor public policy accordingly. This is particularly true with transportation policy. Different parts of our Commonwealth have dramatically different transportation needs. The density of eastern Massachusetts requires a costly mass transit system. While taxpayer support for this asset provides dividends in the form of economic development, those benefits mostly accrue to the communities served by the core MBTA system.
As the Greater Boston economy grows, the need to make additional investments in the system will only intensify. If we continue to depend heavily on statewide revenue to make these investments, the risk is that we will invest below the optimal level in the Boston area, undermining the region’s exceptional economic potential and reducing quality of life for residents who need a more robust transportation system.
At the same time, if the statewide revenue model that we currently rely on continues to constrain our ability to generate adequate transportation funding—pitting projects that Boston needs to serve today’s demand against projects that other parts of the state are counting on to enable their future growth—it is quite likely that we will forego those more aspirational investments outside of Greater Boston and perpetuate unbalanced economic development. Indeed, even sustaining basic service outside of Greater Boston has become challenging—our state’s RTAs are looking at level funding for three consecutive fiscal years.
Regional transportation finance provides an elegant solution to this challenge. Each region of the state would be free to chart its own destiny, deciding what kind of system is needed to accomplish regional economic development objectives and generating revenue to support these investments with a mechanism that wins support from voters locally.
In 2011, MassINC produced a second report on regional transportation finance estimating the revenue generating capacity of each regional transit area in Massachusetts. We found that for the price to the average taxpayer of a cup of coffee each week, the revenue mechanisms enabled by H. 1640 would produce sizeable proceeds in every region of the state relative to their needs.Fundamental questions surrounding administration and governance, at both the state and federal level, will need to be considered further as the Legislature explores regional transportation finance. As the Committee confronts these questions, we hope to be a valuable resource, providing additional research and information as you require.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before the committee on this important legislation.