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Elections and Politics

Gov. Healey Pledges to Double Operating Support for the T, Seek Replacement for Gasoline Taxes

A crowd of people in yellow flourescent safety vests stands behind a podium where the Massachusetts Governor is speaking. To her left is a poster that outlines the new wages and benefits for newly-hired bus drivers under the terms of a new labor deal, with a $30 per hour wage in bold lettering at the top.

Governor Maura Healey speaks at the MBTA Cabot Yard to announce a new labor deal for the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, which represents many of the MBTA’s frontline transit workers, on August 2, 2023.

Governor Maura Healey delivered her first State of the Commonwealth address, which included a few brags about her administration's accomplishments in turning around the MBTA, and a few new promises for transportation policies her administration would like to take on in 2024.

Here are some of the highlights:

Campaign promises fulfilled

Transportation wasn't the primary focus on Healey's speech last night – she spent the first 45 minutes of her address talking about other topics like housing and education, where her administration has floated some weighty policy proposals that still need approval from the State House.

When she did turn her attention to transportation, her speech mostly focused on the accomplishments her administration had made in the past year – several of which fulfilled her campaign promises.

  • Healey boasted of winning $3 billion in federal infrastructure funding commitments during the past year, for projects like east-west rail upgrades (which was also a Healey campaign priority) and a down payment on the Cape Cod bridges replacement.
  • Healey also took credit for hiring MBTA General Manager Phil Eng, who attended the speech and earned one of the evening's many rounds of applause. Healey gave Eng credit for "deep operational experience" and for his promising work to date on fixing slow zones.
  • Healey also shared credit with Eng and the Boston Carmen's Union for making 1,500 new hires in the past year – "the best year of hiring the T has ever had." Healey didn't mention that 2023 was also a historic year for workers leaving the T – 750 people retired or quit. But attrition has slowed down since the T adopted a new labor contract, and overall, the T's workforce has seen a net gain of 730 people over the course of the year.
A chart showing hires, internal promotions, and separations (quits or retirements) in the MBTA workforce for each year since 2019. The tallest bars are in the year 2023, when there were 1480 hires and 750 separations, versus 831 hires and 665 separations in 2022.
Hiring trends at the MBTA since 2019. Red bars indicate separations – people who retired, quit, or were fired – and green bars indicate new hires. Courtesy of the MBTA.

Next budget will include increased MBTA operational support

For the year ahead, Healey made some interesting promises, but offered relatively little detail.

"Our budget proposal next week will offer transformative investments to improve all the ways we get around in Massachusetts... We’ll double our support for MBTA operations, and tackle deferred maintenance, to build a system worthy of our economy," said the Governor.

It's possible that some of this increased funding could fund improved transit service, like the proposed bus network redesign.

But the T has been facing large and growing operating shortfalls since the pandemic, so this increased funding will likely be necessary just to preserve existing service levels.

The MBTA Board of Directors Audit and Finance subcommittee meets on Friday, and we could learn more details then.

Looking beyond the gas tax?

Before shifting her attention to economic development, the Governor also made some ambiguous remarks about transportation finance.

"Finally, to address the long-term needs of our rails and our roads, we will appoint a task force of public and private leaders to chart a course for transportation financing in the clean energy era," said Healey. "Under my administration, we will not kick this can down the road any longer."

Healey seems to be referring to the fact that revenue from the Commonwealth's gasoline taxes, which historically have been a major source of funding for transportation projects, will need to quickly converge toward zero in the next two decades to meet her administration's climate goals.

Massachusetts collected $612 million from gas taxes in 2023.

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