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Massachusetts senators look at penalties for driving at peak times

 Light traffic approaching a highway on-ramp in Springfield, Mass.
Doug Kerr
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/dougtone
Light traffic approaching a highway on-ramp in Springfield, Mass.

Congestion pricing, that extra fee for vehicles on busy roads, could be considered for Massachusetts roadways.

State senators may create a committee to look at convincing drivers not to commute at already crowded peak times.

This is not the first time that Massachusetts lawmakers have tried to begin this congestion pricing conversation. Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service explains where the proposal stands and what’s next.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: I'd say the chances are better now than it has been in the past for this study to get up and off the ground. Of course, the Senate will have to convince the House to go along with it, but that's something they've had success on twice previously. But both times this fell short of the finish line with Governor Charlie Baker in office. Maybe they'll think that in the first year of a two-year term, there's much more time necessary to finish the work on this issue.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: That transportation measure was one of the policies wrapped into the Senate's budget debate. Following three days of deliberations, the nearly $56 billion budget is now moving forward to negotiations by a House and Senate committee, who will come up with that final budget in private. What are some of the major differences they have to work out?

In addition to a different bottom line of about $300 million or so, there are a few critical policy differences between the House and Senate budget. The House budget authorizes online lottery.

The state lottery would be able to provide and sell games online, and revenue from that would go toward childcare. The Senate doesn't even touch that, does not authorize yet another gambling expansion in the sports betting world.

The Senate budget would make in-state tuition at public colleges and universities available to undocumented students, so long as they graduated from high school here and have provided some paperwork, including an affidavit that they intend to apply for citizenship. But the House did not touch that. So, we have a lot of significant highlights from either budget that remain in limbo heading into this private negotiation process.

In your reporting on the Senate budget process, Chris, you say senators tried to address the loss of Massachusetts residents who were leaving for other statesin parts of the budget. Briefly, what's going on here? And did House lawmakers have similar concerns?

Yeah, we're seeing a growing body of research, most recently last week with a new report from the Mass Taxpayers Foundation about outmigration. So, there's been a worry on Beacon Hill for a few years now. And the latest indications are not just that Massachusetts is losing residents to other states faster than it's gaining them, but that the largest share of those leaving are young adults between the ages of 26 and 35 people who have their whole future ahead of them and therefore have an entire future of paying taxes, contributing to the state's economy ahead of them.

You know, the Senate did not do tax relief in its budget. It set aside $575 million for that debate later. The House has already approved a tax relief bill. So, this is something that's on the horizon. But what we saw during the Senate's budget debate is just how difficult that conversation is going to be with a lot of different competing priorities. You know, there seems to be disagreement about whether the way to address population shifts and competitiveness concerns is through changing the state's tax code or investing in more affordable housing and affordable childcare. I think that it's going to be tricky to balance all those concerns at once.

And with just over a month left on the current fiscal year, the clock is ticking. It seems likely Governor Healey will need to pass another supplemental budget soon because a federal line of special education funding is ending. What's this all about?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, under the Baker administration, the state set up a grant program for private special education providers that were struggling with significant staffing shortages that left them unable to provide really critical services. The federal money for that is running out, but the state still wants to keep those facilities supported and staffed at the same level, which means that cities and towns are now having to pick up an even greater share of the costs.

All told, that factors out to something like a 14% increasein the tuition that local districts and municipalities owe to these facilities. There is a bit more money in the state budget bill to address this, and Governor Healey's proposed another $75 million through a stand-alone spending bill to help reduce some of the burden that cities and towns face. We've heard from some that they expect to pay even a few million dollars more next year just to serve the same number of students. So, it is certainly an unexpected and significant burden.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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