As Governor Charlie Baker cut his profile as a socially moderate Republican, he’s touted two unquestionably traditional GOP tenets: support law enforcement and hold the line on taxes and fees.
Now, a new bill awaits his signature that pits the two against each other.
This week, state lawmakers sent legislation to Baker’s desk that would create a new $2 fee on car rental transactions across the state, putting up to $10 million toward training for local police.
Baker has indicated he supports the fee’s goal, saying this week that officials need to funnel more cash to the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee, which trains local police around the state and would draw from the new fee’s revenues.
“I certainly think it’s important that we do some of the things that the folks in law enforcement have urged us to do,” Baker told reporters a day after authorities said a Weymouth police officer and innocent bystander were murdered in a shocking, Sunday morning shooting.
“We need to put more money into the municipal police training council,” Baker said Monday. “And it’s my expectation that one way or another that will happen by the time the discussions around the budgets for closing out this year and opening next year are done.”
On Thursday, a Baker spokesman, Brendan Moss, declined to comment on if the governor would sign the bill, and referred back to his comments from earlier this week.
Lawmakers enacted the bill Wednesday, after it was removed from the final version of the budget that they sent Baker the same day.
The bill changes the funding formula for the Municipal Police Training Fund that the state created as part of the sweeping criminal justice reform package passed this year and helps seed the training committee.
If signed, it would set aside up to $10 million annually for the fund from the new surcharge applied to all rental car transactions.One exception: hourly rentals spanning less than 12 hours. (Think Zipcar.)
But, as written, the new fee could also plow cash into far more than just police training. If the state collects more than $10 million from the surcharge, the extra cash could flow to the general fund, where officials could use it to pay for any number of needs and priorities — including filling any potential budget gaps.
It would also add to the procession of costs that are already layered on top the price of many car rentals.
For example, the base price for a one-day rental of a compact car from Hertz at Logan International Airport from Friday to Saturday was $149. According to the Hertz website, when the $11.78 in taxes, $18.24 airport concession fee, the $6 customer facility charge, the $10.63 city surcharge, $13.68 vehicle licensing fee and tax, and the $1.49 energy surcharge are added, the total amount jumps to $210.82.
Baker campaigned on a no-new-taxes, no-new-fees pledge, including during an October 2014 debate with then-Democratic nominee Martha Coakley.
“Is Charlie pledging — are you signing that in blood, Charlie? You’re not going to raise fees?” said Coakley, turning to Baker.
“I’m not going to raise fees,” Baker responded.
After he was elected, Baker affirmed his no-new-fees stance, with a caveat: He said he would not consider it a violation of his pledge if the state rolls out a “new service” that has never been offered and attaches a charge to it.
It’s a position Baker pointed to last month, when he signed a sweeping bill that — in addition to raising the minimum wage to $15 and creating a yearly sales tax holiday — funded a new paid family and medical leave program through an estimated $800 million payroll tax on workers and employers in Massachusetts.
Creating a new fee to support a new program, Baker said after signing the bill, “is a lot different than just raising taxes just to balance the budget.”
But police training and, specifically, the Municipal Police Training Committee are hardly new. The committee’s roots date back more than 50 years, when it was first established as the Municipal Police Training Council in 1964.
The bill’s supporters say the surcharge will essentially serve as another source of local aid, providing a lifeline for police departments at a time when cash-strapped cities and towns have had to scale back on training.
“There is a dire need for better police training for the safety of those officers and for the safety of the general public,” said Representative David P. Linsky, a Natick Democrat who backs the measure. “That should outweigh political points that [Baker] would be worried about for imposing a $2 car rental fee.”
Linsky said he expects it would generate $7.3 million a year; Representative Jeffrey Sánchez said he thought it could raise up to the $10 million.
“There was a sense that we had to . . . create a funding stream for municipal training because it’s so important, especially for those smaller police departments that don’t have the resources that the larger cities do,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez argued Wednesday that the burden would largely fall on tourists, not Massachusetts taxpayers. But the country’s top rental car company trade group has raised concerns about the fees, contending that at least 50 percent of those who rent cars in Massachusetts are local residents and companies.
The bill enjoyed overwhelming support in the House, 143-5, and the Senate, 36-0, this week to move to Baker’s desk.
“I will say that it has taken far too long for us to get to this point,” said Senate minority leader Bruce E. Tarr, who, like Baker, is a Republican.