Sen. Lesser Pitches Regional Ballots Proposal as Solution to Transportation Funding Shortages at Hearing

BOSTON — Senator Eric P. Lesser testified on Tuesday in support of his proposed bill to allow local communities to band together and raise funds for regional transportation projects by local ballot measures.

The ballot initiatives would empower regions like the Pioneer Valley, the Berkshires and the Cape, as well as Greater Boston, to supplement their state and federal transportation funding dollars with local revenues to advance their unique regional priorities.

Framing the initiatives as a solution to the funding shortages that have plagued the MBTA and ultimately caused two recent train derailments, Sen. Lesser said, “Given the age of our infrastructure and the limited amount of state aid allocated to local communities, these ballot initiatives give us a new way to invest in our infrastructure.”

The initiatives would help regional planning agencies, city and town governments, and construction contractors budget and plan for local projects ahead of time, instead of waiting on state or federal funds. For this reason, the bill has gained support from the state’s regional planning agencies, including the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Greater Boston and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC).

“In Western Mass, we wouldn’t have to wait for Beacon Hill to approve East-West Rail or release funds to make it happen — we could start raising the funds and laying the groundwork ourselves. Boston, Cambridge and Somerville residents could start solving the T’s funding challenge themselves,” said Sen. Lesser. “Regional transportation ballot initiatives are democracy in its purest form. They empower voters in individual communities — who know their streets better than anyone else, who know which projects are urgent — to choose the projects that receive their tax dollars.”

Others testifying in favor of the bill, S. 1694 An Act relative to regional transportation ballot initiatives, included Boston DPW Commissioner John Osgood; Pat Beaudry, Manager of Public Affairs at PVPC; and Karen Sawyer Conard, Executive Director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.

“In 2019, our Commonwealth’s need for legislation that empowers regions to address their own unique transportation funding challenges has never been clearer,” said PVPC Manager of Public Affairs Pat Beaudry. “Regional Ballot Initiatives allow communities — particularly those facing shrinking or nonexistent public transportation service, as well as crumbling roads and bridges - to band together and control their own regional transportation destinies by raising revenues at the grassroots.”

More than 30 states, including California and Michigan, allow voters to make these transportation funding decisions by ballot. The initiatives put on the ballot have passed 70 to 80 percent of the time, often with wide margins, in districts across the political spectrum. Poll results from these states show that these local ballot measures enjoy bipartisan support.

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Ryan Migeed