Offers Regional Ballot Initiatives as Potential Solution to Funding Gap
SPRINGFIELD — Following today’s decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that a proposed income surtax on the state’s highest earners cannot be on the November ballot, State Senator Eric P. Lesser issued the following statement:
“This decision by the state’s highest court will have the greatest impact on our communities in Western Massachusetts, which have long struggled to gain attention and financial support from Beacon Hill. We have consistently asked the state, for example, to fully fund our Regional Transit Authorities and fully reimburse our regional school districts for the costs of maintaining a fleet of school buses to transport our students. This ballot proposal was a potential solution to this historic funding gap.
“Instead, today’s decision means our Commonwealth’s infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and our schools will be less competitive. But we have options. One is to allow regions to organize their own funding programs for transit projects through Regional Ballot Initiatives. This innovative solution — which has already caught on in other states — would empower cities and towns to band together to decide which projects matter most to them and which they want to fund.
“We need to invest in our schools and our transportation networks. Empowering our local communities to make those decisions when the state won’t is a good place to start.”
Sen. Lesser serves as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and Senate Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
Last year, he introduced a bill, S. 1551, co-sponsored by the late Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Framingham), that would enable cities and towns to raise funds for regional transportation projects by adding initiatives to local election year ballots. The idea enjoys bipartisan support, and has been adopted in states as diverse as California, Kansas and Michigan, as Sen. Lesser and Tim Brennan, Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, pointed out in an op-ed last month.
Sen. Lesser’s bill passed the Senate in the 2015-2016 session, and this year received an early favorable report out of the Joint Committee on Revenue. It is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Ways on Means.