June 29, 2020
Dear Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and Members of the Massachusetts Senate:
As members of the House Progressive Caucus, we write with both respect and with grave concern that the Massachusetts Senate has not yet taken up the progressive transportation revenue bill which the House passed in early March. The Legislature has an urgent responsibility to raise revenue for desperately needed investments in the Commonwealth’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. A strong investment in our transportation and infrastructure is vital to workers, our climate, and our economic recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic rightfully took transportation out of the spotlight it was in, back when the Greater Boston region was declared the most congested in the country, and a MassDOT study confirmed it as reaching a “tipping point.” However, despite the pandemic, our transportation and infrastructure challenges still remain and will not be solved without substantial investment.
The House passed a carefully balanced revenue package that includes raising corporate taxes and increased fees on ride-hailing services, coupled with a modest increase in the gas tax. Given the fact that gas prices fell an average of 65 cents a gallon between January and May, a 5 cent increase in the gas tax leaves the state’s gas prices well below where they stood when the House first voted.
The Commonwealth is now facing a staggering $6-7 billion revenue loss and the prospect of laying off thousands of teachers, social workers and human service workers if we cannot find a way to address this fiscal crisis. We must instead explore a menu of options including tapping the Rainy Day Fund, maximizing federal aid, raising targeted progressive revenue, and possibly even borrowing. Our argument to raise further progressive revenue is weakened because a previous tax vote that the House took to generate $600 million did not move forward in the Senate. The Commonwealth’s borrowing constraints and interest rate also stands to be negatively impacted without this $600 million in revenue.
As policymakers, it is on us to find creative answers to difficult questions. There is never a perfect time to pass a tax increase, but as elected officials, it is our duty to act boldly and in the best interest of our constituents. We respectfully urge the Senate to take the opportunity presented by the House and act on raising revenue needed to fund both our transportation needs, the investments we promised in education and the many needs that the Commonwealth faces as we work our way out of this public health and economic crisis.
We welcome the opportunity to work together on this issue that is vital to all of our communities.
Jack Patrick Lewis
Andy X. Vargas
Bill Driscoll Jr.