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Governor Healey Is Already Second-Guessing Her Transportation Funding Task Force

An electronic tolling gantry on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Courtesy of MassDOT.

Governor Healey's new transportation funding task force has barely started its work and is already getting blowback from for even thinking about new tolls to manage congestion and pay for the Commonwealth's crumbling infrastructure.

The Commonwealth currently spends over $2.5 billion every year on highway maintenance and capital projects, but collects less than $1 billion a year from its existing tolls and gasoline taxes.

That deficit is getting worse: gas taxes are not keeping pace with the rate of inflation and are expected to start declining quickly as drivers buy more electric vehicles.

Governor's Secretary of Transportation, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, leads the new task force that's been charged with fixing this deficit.

The new task force "is actually different because we’re not censoring it,” said Tibbits-Nutt. “I'm going to talk about tolling. I’m going to talk about charging TNCs [transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft] more. I’m going to talk about potentially charging more for package deliveries, charging more for payroll tax — basically going after everybody who has money."

'Uncensored' – until yesterday

The Secretary's comments were in line with the Governor's own executive order forming the task force, in which Gov. Healey directed the group to "review current and projected revenue sources for transportation funding and consider their adequacy to meet long-term transportation funding needs."

But yesterday, when WBUR asked the Governor about the border tolls concept, Governor Healey rebuked her Secretary and wrote off the concept of border tolling.

“The Secretary’s comments do not represent the views of this administration, and to be clear, I am not proposing tolls at any border,” the administration wrote in a prepared statement sent to WBUR reporter Amanda Beland.

Republicans target 'wasteful' highway spending

The idea that drivers should pay a fair price to use the highways that cost taxpayers over $2.5 billion every year also elicited a coordinated rebuke from the Commonwealth's sparsely populated right wing.

"It is not the duty of the residents in the Commonwealth to offset wasteful government spending," wrote Rep. Marcus Vaughn of Wareham, one of the state's few Republican lawmakers.

However, any effort to meaningfully reduce transportation spending would require a significant reduction in the Commonwealth's stock of expensive highway infrastructure – an idea that's also likely to face considerable political backlash.

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