It’s an odd thing to breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of more than $500 million in new state taxes. Yet, that’s where Massachusetts taxpayers find themselves this week after the Legislature approved a sweeping plan to pour new money into the state’s crumbling, financially unstable transportation system.
The new spending, which would be fueled by tax increases of $265 million next year, $504 million in 2015 and more than $800 million in 2015, will be pulled from many pockets. There’s a 3 percent increase in the gas tax (tied to inflation, and sure to rise), a $1 jump in the cigarette tax and a vague, somewhat nebulous tax on computer and software design services. Aside from the gas tax, the new revenues have little to do with transportation.
Still, it could have been worse. Gov. Deval Patrick put forth a plan that called for spending an extra $1.2 billion a year on the transportation system. Patrick’s plan would have used an income tax hike to help stabilize the transportation budget and pay for big-ticket items like the renovation of South Station.
While Massachusetts’ transportation system faces a wide range of problems, Patrick’s plan to deal with them all at once was too ambitious and expensive, especially given the delicate recovery of the state economy.
The Legislature’s plan, while expensive in its own right, addresses many of the infrastructure issues and also takes the important step of putting the MBTA on sound financial footing by moving its employees off the capital budget, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Thomas McGee of Lynn, one of the chief architects of the deal.
“This isn’t a final solution to what we face in terms of investment in transportation,” McGee told the State House News Service. “This is something we need to do and make sure it’s a priority every year and make sure it’s part of the key pieces of government we work on every year.”