BOSTON – A day after voting to raise taxes and fees by as much as $600 million per year, the Massachusetts House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved spending about $18 billion on transportation projects and infrastructure over 10 years.
Before adopting the bill on a 150-1 vote, the House, without discussion or debate, adopted a $2.4 billion amendment, followed by a second $1.36 billion amendment. Both amendments stemmed from lengthy private talks, with the larger amendment authorizing, among other things, $350 million for improving road approaches to the two Cape Cod Canal bridges, which both need extensive repairs or replacement.
The larger amendment included more than 14 pages, single-spaced, of language that would fund projects all over the state. The amendment also would expand a rail improvement line item from $80 million to $400 million.
The House bulked up the bill's bottom line to reflect the projected revenues approved Wednesday, even though those taxes and fees face an uncertain future in the Senate and Gov. Charlie Baker opposes the House's planned increases in gas and corporate taxes.
Baker has insisted that the state can afford his $18 billion bond bill without new taxes, and that the House left critical needs underfunded with its bill. House leaders reject the governor's thinking, and say their spending is affordable only because of their passage of new revenues.
"The responsible and financially prudent thing is what the House is doing," Transportation Committee co-Chairman Rep. William Straus said.
A huge chunk of the underlying bill, $5.6 billion, is for federal highway projects, with $1.75 billion more carved out for the design, construction and repair of non-federally-aided road and bridge projects, and $1.25 billion to improve bridges and approaches.
A $2.3 billion train system modernization proposal in the bill would fund improvements tied to the Blue Line extension to Charles/MGH station, and for the design and construction of a commuter rail station at Wonderland Park on the Newburyport and Rockport line in Revere.
Other items in the bill would authorize $825 million to expand commuter rail service to the South Coast, $695 million for the ongoing Green Line extension north of Boston, and $400 million for South Station commuter rail improvements.
The House bond bill would boost Chapter 90 reimbursements to cities and towns for road repairs to $300 million, exceeding the governor's bill by $100 million and fulfilling a request that municipal leaders have been making of the Legislature for years.
During a visit to the State House, North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard and Mount Washington Select Board member Jim Lovejoy applauded the 50 percent increase in Chapter 90 funding but said they still need more financial support and a multiyear authorization.
Bernard said that at the current funding levels, it would take 73 years to repave every road in North Adams. Lovejoy said Mount Washington receives about $70,000 per year, but faces costs of up to $1 million to repave a single mile of road.
"For most communities, it's a lifeblood of funding for their municipal roads," Lovejoy said.
Straus called Baker's proposal to expand the use of grant anticipation notes, or borrowing against future federal grants, "dangerous" and one the House has rejected. The House proposal also would exclude Baker's request to borrow against revenues that could come from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program for emissions that the governor is negotiating with other states.
"It's a program that may have its day, we don't know. But we can't rely on it," Straus said.
Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli proposed revisiting the Chapter 90 funding formula, saying it needs to be made more equitable for small communities like his in the Berkshires.
Before withdrawing his amendment without a vote on it, Pignatelli suggested the House reject the more than $4 billion in earmark spending amendments, boost Chapter 90 to $400 million and change the funding formula rather than continue to "beg, borrow and steal" to persuade the governor to release money that would be authorized by the bond bill.
"Earmarks and bond bills are monopoly money until the governor says it's real money," Pignatelli said.
The House also rejected a Rep. Brad Hill amendment calling for a per-employee tax credit for companies that allow workers to telecommute, an idea that Baker touted in his bill.
Rep. Carolyn Dykema's amendment that would establish an MBTA office of transit parking and access was adopted. The office would assess parking capacity and demand near transit stations, develop a plan to fund parking opportunities in areas of highest transit demand, and develop programs, which may include incentives, for private property owners to offer parking near high-demand stations.
The House also adopted Rep. Shawn Dooley's amendment that would require the MBTA to study the cost of converting to fully raised platforms at commuter rail stops, with handicapped access at every train door. The study would be due by Dec. 31.
A $175 million item in the House bill would fund the planning, design, permitting and engineering for Springfield to Worcester rail service, Boston to Cape Cod service and Pittsfield to New York City service.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues said he hoped the Senate would take up its version of the House bill before the Senate budget debate, which usually occurs the week before Memorial Day weekend.