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Are Massachusetts lawmakers warming to the idea of expanded tolls?

New electronic tolling gantries were constructed along the Massachusetts Turnpike and other locations in 2016, part of the shift away from tollbooths and toll plazas.
Antonio Caban
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State House News Service
New electronic tolling gantries were constructed along the Massachusetts Turnpike and other locations in 2016, part of the shift away from tollbooths and toll plazas.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbetts-Nutt floated a rather bold revenue idea of adding tolls at Massachusetts state lines. Gov. Maura Healey quickly tried to put that idea to bed. And now, a month later, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is calling out the Massachusetts toll idea as not "a great idea." Connecticut Republicans piled on, saying the Massachusetts tolls would kill jobs and tax Connecticut residents.

Reporter Chris Lisinksi from the State House News Service explains where where Massachusetts lawmakers are on tolls, and if the ideas is still being discussed as a viable option.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: I'll start with that second question first. There's not really any substantial support among the people who would need to support this to make it a reality. Senate President Karen Spilka is the most open-minded to the idea, and actually, she's been open-minded to expanding tolls more broadly for years, well before Monica Tibbetts-Nutt became transportation secretary. But the governor has already backtracked from this.

We don't have any inkling that the House Democratic leadership is on board, so it doesn't appear to be going anywhere, at least for now. Some lawmakers, especially out in western Mass. and in MetroWest communities that use the Massachusetts Turnpike, don't think it's that bad an idea, probably because their constituents already pay tolls and they want some other folks to face the same kind of burden.

Mass. Sen. Jake Olivera, D-Ludlow, address the Senate on May 21, 2024, by counting out the $8.80 required in tolls for his constituents to get to the Statehouse from his district.
Screen Capture
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Massachusetts Legislature
Mass. Sen. Jake Olivera, D-Ludlow, address the Senate on May 21, 2024, by counting out the $8.80 required in tolls for his constituents to get to the Statehouse from his district.

We had some Senate debate last week where Sen. Jake Oliveira actually pulled $8.80 out of his pocket, dropped it onto his desk to point out the exact amount of money that his constituents would pay trying to get to the Statehouse using the turnpike.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: In the wee hours of Friday morning, Chris, state senators passed a $58 billion budget bill. On a unanimous vote at adjournment, Spilka told senators to rest, relax and recuperate and come back refreshed after the long holiday weekend. And now, of course, that conference committee takes on the task of ironing out the differences between the Senate and the House plans. What could be those sticking points?

We know a few different policy areas that are specific sticking points. The bottom lines are roughly about the same, about $58 billion. But the House wants to legalize online lottery. The Senate does not. The Senate wants to offer free community college. The House does not.

And then there's some differences in how they would carve up money from the state's income surtax, where that funding would go, and whether transportation funding should be more focused on the MBTA or regional transit authorities. I'd say those are probably the biggest sticking points that will need to get some kind of reconciliation.

And what kind of work are senators returning "refreshed" to tackle?

How much time do you have? The list is just really long given that we've got just a hair over two months left for formal sessions for the year. The Senate is expecting to do some kind of a major health care bill responding to the House's hospital oversight and cost control bill. Both branches still need to take up Healey's housing bond bill and her economic development bill. And after that, you know, I could go on and on for a full eight to 10 minutes about different bills that are still somewhere in limbo along the process.

OK, so briefly, Chris, some in Massachusetts emergency family shelters this week will start getting eviction letters effective September 1. And this caught some officials off guard. It hinges on counting stays retroactively back to January. And it comes as a new law governing the length of shelter stays kicks in this week. What are you hearing about this from lawmakers?

A handful of lawmakers were concerned and said that they didn't think that these time limits were supposed to be retroactive when they implemented the law, started a push to change it, and eventually backed away from it. But top Democrats have really given the administration bandwidth to execute this approach as they see fit.

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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