Voters will be asked to decide four ballot questions at the polls this November. Lizzi Weyant is working to convince you to vote no on the first question, which concerns the linking, or “indexing,” of the state’s gas tax to inflation. Lizzi is advocacy director for Transportation for Massachusetts and is working with the Committee for Safe Roads and Bridges to oppose Question 1. I asked her to explain the question and the argument for voting no.
Indexing, repealing indexing…it’s all very confusing. Can you briefly explain how we got to this point and why you think the gas tax needs to be linked to inflation?
Our transportation system has been woefully underfunded for years. A 2007 independent commission estimated that we would need somewhere around $20 billion over 20 years to invest in our transportation system—just to keep pace with our needs, not to do anything about new transportation investments. In 2013, the legislature finally heeded the call for investment. By raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation, the legislature estimated that we would be able to invest $600 million a year in new transportation revenue.
Indexing was a key part of the package for a few reasons: First, indexing allows us to keep pace with rising costs. If we fail to index, then the value of the gas tax depreciates significantly over time. Second, indexing creates a stable and reliable revenue source on which we can depend for years to come. And third, we have a long history of indexing in Massachusetts. Prior to 1991, we indexed our gas tax, and most other taxes are percentage-based taxes, meaning that they go up as costs increase.
There’s a map on the “No on 1” campaign website showing all the bridges in the state that need repairing. Are you saying we’re not going to have the money to fix all these if Question 1 passes?
Yes. The safety of the commonwealth’s roads and bridges depends on indexing the gas tax. When the legislature passed the financing bill last year, it assumed that indexing would be an important part of the revenue we could rely on. If Question 1 passes, that money goes away, and with it, our assurance that we can make the kind of critical investments in our bridges and roads that we know we need to make. There are already 28 bridges across Massachusetts that are closed because they’re unsafe. Without indexing, I fear that we would see that number rise.
It’s also important to note that this money is used to invest in public transportation as well. We all want to have better public transportation options in Massachusetts. We can’t afford to lose this money.
The “yes” side seems to be focusing more on the fact that the gas tax would go up automatically and less on what it would be spent on or whether we need the money. Have any of them offered any alternative ways for paying for transportation?
Not that I’ve heard of. But their position is reckless. Here in Massachusetts, we have the second-worst bridge quality in the country. We know that one-third of all traffic fatalities are due to poor roads, and we spend over $6.3 billion a year in medical and other costs associated with motor vehicle crashes. There’s no doubt that we need the money to invest in our transportation system. Without enough money for transportation, we won’t be able to keep Massachusetts residents safe on our roads and bridges, we won’t be able to meet our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, and we won’t be able to make investments in our future.
Apart from the campaign, you work for a group that advocates for alternative transportation, like biking, walking and public transportation. Do you practice what you preach? How do you get to work?
I absolutely practice what Transportation for Massachusetts works for every day! My husband and I have one car between the two of us, and we both work downtown. So we engage in a time-honored tradition among new parents that I refer to as “daycare Jenga.” I drive my daughter to daycare, take an express bus downtown and walk to my office. On the return trip, my husband takes the Silver Line, the Red Line and a bus to daycare, where he picks up our daughter and the car and meets me in Davis Square, where I have taken the Red Line from downtown. Our commutes are a perfect example of why we need to make sure we’re investing in our transportation system. Without a strong public transportation infrastructure, our household costs would increase dramatically because we would be forced to buy another car.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!