With just days remaining until the Legislature recesses until 2020, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Thursday he’s decided to push back his timeline for a hotly anticipated debate over new revenue for transportation until next year.
DeLeo and Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz said that their commitment to passing legislation to raise new funding for transportation infrastructure has not waned.
The goal set by DeLeo for a fall debate, however, would require decisions on how to generate and spend new revenues that the Democratic leaders are not quite ready to make.
The Legislature is set to recess on Wednesday and resume formal sessions in January. While the House and Senate will continue to meet in informal sessions through December, anything that requires a roll call vote must wait.
DeLeo and House leaders in March and April signaled plans for a fall debate on transportation revenues, and the urgency of that debate increased in recent months because of failures on the MBTA and congestion conditions on the roads that drivers are finding more and more intolerable.
Two weeks ago, DeLeo convened a group of his top deputies to gauge where in the process House leaders were in putting a package together. Majority leader Ronald Mariano said after the meeting that they had started to “put some numbers next to the strategies,” but would likely need a few more weeks.
“It makes it close, but the goal is to have something at least on the floor of the House before the end of the session,” Mariano said.
Then two days later a coalition of business groups, led by Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president Jim Rooney, shared the results of a survey of major Massachusetts employers on what types of new taxes or revenue enhancers they could support to improve public transit and reduce congestion.
The results were mixed, but DeLeo said the release of the information, including the chamber’s support for a 15-cent gas tax increase, sparked intensified interest among House members to share their opinions with leadership.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s very, very important that we try to get this in the best possible form as possible and I think it’s going to take more time for us to be talking with some of the members, who are probably a little more engaged now and want to talk a little more about it,” DeLeo said.
Straus said the team working on the revenue package has ruled some options in and out, and mentioned how just this week a coalition of mayors and municipal leaders rallied behind a 15-cent gas tax increase.