Questions surround Massachusetts transportation bond bill

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An $18 billion transportation bond bill is headed to the Massachusetts Senate amid uncertainty over proposed rises in gas and corporate taxes that Gov. Charlie Baker opposes.

The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 150-1 vote on Thursday, one day after it voted to increase taxes and fees by up to $600 million per year. Thursday’s vote included $3.8 billion of amendments that aim to fund such projects as overhauling approaches to the Bourne and Sagamore bridges on Cape Cod.

The Sagamore Bridge on Cape Cod is among Massachusetts' compelling transportation infrastructure needs.

Roughly $5.6 billion of the underlying bill is for federal highway system projects, with an additional $1.8 billion for the design, construction and repair other roadway and bridge projects.

The bill also includes $2.3 billion for improvements related to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s half-mile Blue Line extension to Charles/MGH station, which serves the Red Line, and for a commuter rail station at the site of the former Wonderland Park dog racing track in Revere.

Other projects include $825 million for commuter rail service expansion to the South Coast, $695 million toward the Green Line extension from Cambridge to Somerville and Medford, and $400 million for commuter rail improvements at South Station.

Baker, a moderate Republican, works with a heavily Democratic legislature.

The bill would boost the gas and diesel taxes by 5 and 9 cents per gallon, respectively, from the current 24 cents; increase fees by $1 per ride on app-based for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft; in addition, car-rental companies would have to begin paying the 6.25% sales tax on vehicles bought and registered in the commonwealth.

Massachusetts’ last gas-tax hike was a 3-cent rise in 2013. Voters a year later rejected a measure for annual increases indexed to inflation.

According to the think tank Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the commonwealth’s motor fuels tax generated $769.1 million in fiscal 2018, or about $32 million per penny charged at the pump on each gallon. The tax accounts for roughly 11% of total transportation operating and capital revenues the commonwealth raises.

The federal government levies a separate, 18.4-cent gas tax on top of the state gas tax. According to the center, combined state and federal gas taxes in Massachusetts are 44.94 cents per gallon, including an underground storage tank fee.

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Massachusetts Infrastructure Commonwealth of Massachusetts Charlie Baker
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