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Major Transportation Funding Bill Passes the Massachusetts House

The gold-plated dome of the Massachusetts State House against a blue sky, with the Massachusetts flag flying to the right of the dome in the foreground.

The Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted Wednesday evening by an overwhelming majority to raise taxes and fees by over $500 million per year in order to fund the Commonwealth's backlog of transportation projects.

Legislators approved the transportation finance bill, H. 4508, in a 113-40 roll call vote just one week after it emerged from the Ways and Means Committee.

The House proposal, if passed, is expected to raise over half a billion dollars a year in additional revenue for transportation projects through a 5-cent gasoline tax increase, a 9-cent increase to diesel fuel taxes, hikes to the Commonwealth’s minimum corporate tax rates, and higher fees on app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The bill also includes language that would also grant a significant tax break to commercial trucks and trailers. A proposed amendment to remove that tax exemption from the bill, sponsored by Rep. Tami Gouveia (D-Acton), failed earlier in the day by a wide margin.

The bill establishes minimum appropriations from the Commonwealth's Transportation Trust Fund for the MBTA ($160 million a year), regional transit authorities ($15 million a year), and rural transit services ($10 million a year), but most of the new funding would be subject to annual budget appropriations at the Legislature's discretion.

House members had filed 83 proposed amendments last week, but more than half of those were withdrawn before the final vote on the bill. Still, House members did assent to several amendments in the House session Wednesday afternoon and evening.

One of the more substantive amendments came from Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Boston). Under Honan's amendment, the House bill will redefine the makeup MBTA's Fiscal Management and Control Board to include 7 members in total, including one member who will be appointed by the Mayor of Boston.

Another passed amendment, sponsored by Rep. Josh Cutler (D-Pembrooke), would exempt app-based ride-hailing fees on companies in cases where the customers are eligible for paratransit services.

Yet another successful amendment, from Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-Boston), would require the MBTA to "conduct a study of the impacts, benefits, and costs of a low-income fare program" and report back to the Legislature by July 31, 2021.

The policies approved in the House Wednesday evening will still need approval from the Massachusetts Senate and Governor Baker.

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