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Poll: Voters Support East Coast Effort To Curb Transportation Emissions

A customer pumps fuel at a gas station.
Charles Minshew/KOMU
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/komunews

Voters in seven of the states participating in a nascent program to reduce transportation emissions — including Massachusetts — largely support the effort, according to a new poll.

A MassINC poll published Wednesday found that a majority of registered voters in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia strongly or somewhat support their home state's participation in the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

In Massachusetts, 68% of the 629 respondents said they support the program, compared to 21% who oppose it and 11% who are unsure, according to the poll, which was sponsored by the Barr Foundation.

Only New York voters, with 71% support and 19% opposition, were more in favor among those polled.

Pollsters reached nearly 6,400 voters across the states. Every state saw at least 30% net approval for the program, often referred to as TCI, when pollsters asked if voters would support requiring gasoline and diesel companies to pay for the pollution they create and using the proceeds to improve transportation.

"This is a complex policy, and so we took the time to explain the basics of how it would work and how states might use the funds generated by it," MassINC Polling Group President Steve Koczela said in a press release. "Support was broad, stretching across demographic and party lines and throughout the region."

Twelve states — the seven targeted in the poll plus Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — and the District of Columbia are negotiating the framework for TCI, which will be a mandatory cap-and-invest system similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Once implemented, fuel suppliers will need to purchase carbon allowances to account for the emissions created by their products. Early estimates indicate the caps could generate $150 million to $500 million in revenue for Massachusetts, which could then be directed toward transportation projects.

Bay State voters were the most enthusiastic among those surveyed about using that new funding to improve existing public transit: 86% strongly supported that use, a higher rate than any of the other six states, according to the poll.

The second-most popular spending plan among Massachusetts voters was a tie, with 82% strongly supporting both protecting existing infrastructure from the effects of climate change and making public transit more affordable to encourage greater ridership.

State leaders plan to unveil proposed emissions caps for TCI by the end of the month.

Although the final TCI terms are still in development, it is likely that consumer costs at the gas pump will increase.

The poll's question did not reference the potential of higher costs on motorists when asking about their support for the program.

Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, criticized that omission.

“That's a critical component to be left out in information that's vital to people making an informed decision,” he told NEPR.

Carlozzi said the NFIB opposes the multi-state initiative.

“There are added costs for consumers, for small businesses, which will drive gas prices up,” he said. “And for a small business to operate, they need fuel — whether you're a service provider, or you're transporting a good. It increases the cost of doing business for you. And that cost is passed along to the consumer at the end.”

Small businesses in Massachusetts are facing a host of new cost increases, Carlozzi said, including another minimum wage increase in 2020.

“So when you start talking about transporting goods at a higher price, or if you're going out to do a plumbing job or snowplowing or landscaping, and all of a sudden your fuel costs are increasing as well, that's problematic,” he said. 

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and NFIB planned a Wednesday press conference to announce their opposition to TCI. Both groups said state lawmakers would join them.

Adam Frenier contributed to this report, which includes reporting from Chris Lisinski at the State House News Service.

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