Massachusetts Senate Transportation Committee lacks leadership
Crushing traffic returned to Massachusetts roads after a pandemic lull, the MBTA cut bus service this month due to a driver shortage and the Baker administration’s key plan to cut gas emissions greenhouse effect of the transport sector is dead.
And as fast-moving Massachusetts continues to create headaches for commuters and policymakers, Senate leaders have spent more than three months without delegating a lawmaker to lead the chamber’s business on the issues. transport.
Senate Speaker Karen Spilka has neither appointed a new Senate Speaker to the Transport Committee nor set a timeline for doing so since the most recent person to hold the title, former Senator Joe Boncore, has resigned on September 10.
A spokesperson told the press service that Spilka still has not decided whether she will formally appoint a senator to lead the committee or whether Sen. John Keenan, a Democrat from Quincy who served as its vice-chairman, will continue to assume responsibility. management functions.
Keenan said he was now working “more closely” with the committee’s House chairman, Rep. William Straus, “to ensure that the Joint Transport Committee continues to deal with the 361 major bills under its purview. “.
“I have been busy reviewing bills, chairing hearings, meeting with lawyers, and working with committee members, legislators and the administration to ensure infrastructure needs and goals local and wider Commonwealth transportation are satisfied, “Keenan said in a statement. declaration. âI look forward to continuing this work during the legislative session. “
For Straus, the current setup reflects the work of the committee following the resignation of former transport committee co-chair Senator Tom McGee in January 2018 to become mayor of Lynn. In this case, however, Acting Senate Speaker Harriette Chandler chose Boncore as the next panel leader a few weeks after McGee left.
“All I can offer is that the committee has continued to hold hearings and report on bills since Joe Boncore left,” Straus wrote in an email to the News Service. âI work regularly with Deputy Senate Speaker Keenan on committee matters. This is actually the way I first worked in this sort of situation when Tom McGee left to become Mayor of Lynn and then Vice President Boncore stepped in.
Since Boncore left for high-paying lobbying work as the head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the transportation committee has held three hearings on aviation legislation under its purview.
The panel only brought forward a handful of major bills this session, including an annual road financing plan and a proposal to force transit agencies to offer free rides on election days in the whole State, the latter being linked to the Ways and Means Committee of each branch. .
But halfway through the two-year legislative session, and with the two-year deadline for making decisions on most bills in 37 days, the Transport Committee has taken no action to send other very questions. publicized in the broader legislative arena.
A bill that would allow undocumented migrants to acquire standard driver’s licenses (H 3456 / S 2289), which the panel advanced last session on a party line vote 14-4, remains unchanged this time around here, just like the proposals of the governor Charlie Baker concerning with the application of the seat belt (H 3706) and the drunk driving (H 4255) which were the subject of hearings.
Another issue the committee left largely untouched this session: new revenue to increase funding for the state’s sometimes unreliable transit systems and aging road infrastructure.
Debate on this topic dominated Beacon Hill in late 2019, and the House approved a broad package in March 2020 that would have increased the state’s gasoline tax, the minimum business excise tax, and fees on services. carpools such as Uber and Lyft.
The Senate has allowed this proposal, which House Democrats say would bring in more than half a billion dollars a year, to die without a vote after COVID-19 took back almost all attention on Beacon Hill. Since then, neither branch has rekindled interest in the issue.
âWe just did a $ 16 billion bond clearance,â Spilka said in September, referring to a transport loan bill that has become law. âI’m not sure there is the capacity to do more. $ 16 billion is more, if I remember correctly, than any appropriation from the Legislative Assembly. So I’m not sure there is a need for more money. I haven’t heard this from one person.
Voters are due to decide in November 2022 to impose a 4% surtax on household income over $ 1 million per year. The text of this question calls for the new revenue to go to transport and education, although opponents argue that the tax, if passed, would fund general government spending.
Lawmakers and Baker agreed this year to create a permanent MBTA board to succeed the tax audit and management board, which dissolved in late June, but Baker took more than three months to appoint members of the board. new panel, sparking criticism of the pace of action amid multiple incidents at T.
Spilka’s decision on the post of Chairman of the Transport Committee has financial ramifications. A 2017 law guarantees the Speakers of the House and Senate of the Transport Committee a stipend of $ 30,000 on top of their base salary, while the Deputy Speaker of the House receives a stipend of $ 15,000 and the Deputy -Speaker of the Senate receives an allowance of $ 5,200. All of those allowances are subject to cost-of-living increases, and the Senate Clerk told the news service on Monday that the Senate vice-president position on the Transportation Committee is currently paid at $ 5,908.