Massachusetts governor to decide fate of miles-traveled tax pilot

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/8/2016

Pursuit of a per-mile road tax in Massachusetts may not get off the ground anytime soon.

The Democrat-led state Legislature has advanced a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker to finance road and bridge improvements. Included in the legislation, H4424, is a requirement for the Republican governor to apply for federal funding to test a driver tax based on miles traveled.

The pilot program would be similar to odometer fee programs in Oregon and California that each authorize up to 5,000 volunteer motorists. Participants pay by the mile using GPS technology or at the pump via a wireless transponder.

The Massachusetts bill would direct the state Department of Transportation to apply for grant funding to create the state’s own vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, pilot program. The program would include 500 volunteers.

Gov. Baker has said he would likely veto the miles-traveled pilot program using his line item authority. Specifically, because the bill is a spending bill the governor has authority to strike any line from the legislation and permit the rest of the bill to be approved.

The financing portion of the bill would provide $50 million for bridges. Another $750 million would be used to tap bonds for highway work.

Pilot program supporters say the state should pursue another funding option because the fuel tax cannot keep up with increasing costs to cover wear and tear on roads and bridges.

Critics say the VMT tax involves unproven technology and raises privacy concerns, and it carries its own issues of fairness.

Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, crossed party lines to encourage the governor to veto the mileage tax pilot. In a letter to Baker, he said the tax would “victimize” citizens simply based on what part of the state they live in.

“The long arm of government, with its hand in the taxpayers’ pockets, must be recognized in this instance as inherently destructive to the economic well-being of the citizens,” Velis wrote.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is on the record as opposing the VMT tax.

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek has said the Association supports investments into transportation infrastructure. However, he said if additional revenue is needed, increasing the fuel tax is the most equitable and efficient option, so long as the generated revenue is used for its intended purpose.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts, click here.

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