Proposed MBTA Changes, May Cost One Billion

In his State of the State address last week, MA Governor Deval Patrick proposed a new tax plan that could fund what he calls a “21st century transportation network.” The new plan would increase state tax revenue by $1.9 billon overall.

In his proposal, the sales tax would decrease from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and its revenue would be used exclusively to fund transportation and infrastructure projects, according to Boston’s NPR member station WBUR. The income tax would be increased from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent.

“Imagine if you could depend on a bus or subway that came on time, was safe and comfortable, and ran until a student at UMass Boston or a worker in a downtown tower finished up at one or two in the morning,” Patrick said in the address.

With the new tax revenue, the state would spend $1 billion a year on new infrastructure projects. Some proposals for improvements include longer hours of operation for the subway, extending the Green Line to Medford, and extending the commuter rail further south and west as far as Springfield.

After a smoldering box at Arlington Station on the Green Line disrupted the morning commute last Wednesday, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said at a State House press conference that the incident is “another reason we’re sitting up here talking about reinvestment.”

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey spoke about the problem and the MBTA’s response to it as well, commenting, “This is why we need more revenue.”

But not everyone on the hill is supportive of the plan.

“This is about the taxpayers funding the Deval Patrick legacy project,” Republican House Minority Leader Brad Jones said. “Quite frankly, I don’t think the taxpayers want to or can afford to.”

Senate President Therese Murray of Plymouth told The Boston Herald that her constituents are “very concerned about an increase in the sales tax” as they have seen many other living costs rise. Murray estimates that her office has already received about 100 emails protesting the tax increase.

In Patrick’s $34.8 billion fiscal 2014 budget proposal released after the State of the State address, the governor also extended the sales tax to include currently exempt items like candy and soda and increased the ‘sin’ tax on all tobacco products, including a tax hike on cigarette packs from $1 to $3.51.

“This is a plan to grow jobs,” Patrick said, “I do not submit this proposal lightly.” Many in the state legislature, both democrats and republicans, are skeptical of the new revenue and spending proposals.

House Minority Leader Jones decried it as “a tax and spend approach” that does not benefit the public.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said, “My sense is the Legislature is going to move on to its own proposals, and not spend a lot of time trying to sort out the entanglements of [Patrick’s] budget.”

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