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House appears nearly ready to offer a bill to aid state’s struggling transportation systems

DeLeo: ‘I think we’re getting closer and closer. So I would stay tuned.’

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Massachusetts House leaders could release a long-awaited transportation financing bill within the week, capping months of behind-the-scenes tinkering on how to raise taxes or fees to push what could be hundreds of millions of new dollars into the state’s struggling transit systems.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said Monday that he expects to unveil a bill for debate “sooner rather than later" and give representatives roughly a week to review it before moving it to the House floor — a process typically used for the annual state budget.

“I think we’re getting closer and closer,” DeLeo told reporters at the State House. The Winthrop Democrat said he “can’t emphatically say it’s going to be this week” but noted he’s targeted late February or early March to roll out the long-watched legislation.

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“So I would stay tuned,” he said.

House leaders have not yet laid out the bill’s specifics, but they’ve long discussed increasing the state’s 24-cents-a-gallon gas tax as part of a package to generate new money for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the state’s roads and bridges, regional bus service, and other priorities.

DeLeo said that increasing the fees for Uber and Lyft rides was also “actively being considered” after Governor Charlie Baker included the idea in his budget proposal.

The legislation would mark a long-awaited step in Beacon Hill’s response to the growing congestion and frustration that has gripped the region’s transportation networks. But piecing together a bill has been complicated.

Nearly a year ago, DeLeo asked for input from business leaders, who want action but did not overwhelmingly coalesce around how to raise revenue. The speaker first targeted last fall for debate before pushing it into 2020, and two of his top lieutenants took the unusual step of huddling with various caucuses and groups of legislators to build out ideas for the legislation.

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Any debate also invites its own political challenges. Republicans and more conservative House members are likely to chafe at a push to raise taxes, while the chamber’s more progressive members have questioned leaning predominantly on more regressive measures, such as increasing the gas tax.

More moderate Democrats, meanwhile, would be faced with taking a vote to raise taxes just six months ahead of the Sept. 1 primary. Baker also said he is opposed to raising the gas tax, as his administration pursues a separate regional agreement that could increase prices at the pump in effort to curb carbon emissions.

Progressive advocates have pushed the House to go further in reshaping the tax code to generate new tax money.

That includes suggestions to change how the state taxes certain foreign income known as global intangible low-taxed income, or GILTI. The federal tax overhaul President Trump signed in 2017 created the new tax category, but states have wrestled with how collect such taxes.

Massachusetts lawmakers in 2018 approved a provision in a mid-year spending bill that treated such income as a dividend and made it eligible for a 95 percent deduction. But groups including Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions have urged lawmakers to tackle it again.

The left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center said the state’s decision in 2018 will cost it $450 million in lost revenue in 2020 and argued that more than a dozen states, including New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont, already tax GILTI at 50 percent.

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But overhauling how the state collects those taxes could invite legal scrutiny, and it’s unclear exactly how the lawmakers could adjust it and how much revenue they would expect from it.

Regardless of when the House’s transit package emerges, transportation advocates are expected to descend on the State House Tuesday for an event that’s being billed as a “crisis call to action.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.