Governor Pumps The Brakes On Dems' Commuter Tax

BOSTON -- Governor Baker tomorrow will veto a plan pushed by Democrat leaders that would have been a first step toward taxing drivers based on how many miles they drive. In keeping with his promise to not raise taxes, the Governor is protecting commuters from yet another new tax pushed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"Beacon Hill Democrats' ill-concieved plan to monitor and tax Massachusetts commuters based on the number of miles they drive indicates their breathtaking disconnect from working families in the Commonwealth. Gov. Baker is right to stand up for Massachusetts commuters and veto this irresponsible new tax." - MassGOP Chairman Kirsten Hughes

Baker to veto plan to test-out miles traveled tax
By Michael Norton and Matt Murphy


BOSTON  – When Gov. Charlie Baker signs a highway and small bridge repair funding bill on Wednesday, the Republican governor plans to nix a proposed pilot program to test a system that would charge drivers based on how many miles they drive.

Labeling the vehicle-miles-traveled pilot program a “tax,” Baker said he will veto the section of the infrastructure bill that lawmakers had hoped to use to test a possible alternative to the gas tax.

“We’ve already said that we don’t support the vehicle miles traveled tax and we’re going to veto that section of the bill, but we’re really pleased with a number of other elements in that bill that’s going to make it possible once again to work collaboratively with our colleagues in local government to do a lot of important work on small bridges and the projects associated with the Complete Streets program,” Baker told reporters on Tuesday.
The bill agreed to by the House and Senate included a Senate plan directing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to apply to the federal government for a grant to pilot a vehicle-miles-traveled program with no more than 500 volunteer participants.

During a Senate debate in July, Sen. Jason Lewis, of Winchester, said both Oregon and California are piloting vehicle-miles-traveled programs, and the federal funding would help the state test the program’s impact on gas consumption and gas tax revenues.

Sens. Lewis and Thomas McGee and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier wrote a letter to Baker on Aug. 3 encouraging him to consider the pilot.

“This pilot will help inform the Legislature and your Administration on the viability of VMT as a policy solution to solve the problem of our steadily declining and somewhat unfairly balanced gas tax. If ever implemented statewide, we expect that a VMT programs would replace the gasoline tax,” the legislators wrote.

Lewis, McGee and Farley-Bouvier said the fee for use of state and interstate highways could be designed to avoid over-burdening residents from some parts of the state that are more dependent on the highway system, and could take into account the time of day of travel and road congestion with higher prices charged on more traveled roads.

At a hearing in June focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said no state had adopted a vehicle miles traveled tax. The idea “has been around a long time” and state officials are monitoring pilot programs, she said, adding that such proposals have also surfaced “a lot of privacy issues.”

“While vehicle miles traveled are rising in Massachusetts, last time I checked they are actually down per capita,” Pollack told lawmakers. “So the assumption that, you know, gas taxes are going away because we’re not using gas and vehicle miles traveled will go up forever, I’m not sure that’s actually consistent with the greenhouse gas conversation we’re having today.” She later added, “If we do not make sure that people in communities throughout the Commonwealth have ways to get where they’re going other than driving, there is a real fairness problem with increasing the cost of driving. In too many parts of this Commonwealth driving is not a choice. It is a necessity and the only way to go.”

Saying the gas tax was producing “diminishing returns,” Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) raised the vehicle miles traveled tax with Pollack, touting it as “a way to replace a tax, not add a tax.”

“If we were to tax by vehicle miles traveled we could do a number of things,” Farley-Bouvier said. “It would be a more stable way of collecting the tax. And we could then help to shape people’s behavior because we could have lower tax for example on non-peak travel.”

At the same hearing, in response to questions from lawmakers about a vehicle miles traveled tax and carbon fees, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton said the Baker administration has “reservations around taxes and fees obviously,” but added: “We aren’t necessarily ruling any solution out, but really need to apply that thorough analysis to everything that we would consider down the road. There just needs to be some more questions answered relative to the true impacts and we continue to work with other states as they analyze these types of programs.”
“If we want to succeed in changing transportation greenhouse gas emissions we have to give more people the ability to walk, bike and use transit in more communities throughout Massachusetts. It can’t be limited just to people who are lucky enough to be able to afford to live in Boston or Cambridge or Brookline,” Pollack said, mentioning the importance of the Green Line Extension and South Coast Rail.