House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo cast fresh doubts on the prospects of a regional pact designed to curb carbon emissions while likely raising gas prices, saying Wednesday he doesn’t see “a whole lot of support” for it.
Instead, DeLeo suggested the Legislature will plow ahead with its own transportation financing bill, which could include a gas tax hike, regardless of Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to join the multistate effort.
Amid a crisis of confidence in the state’s public transit systems, it remains unclear when the House will pursue the long-promised legislation, with DeLeo saying Wednesday he’s “uncertain as to exactly when” a bill would emerge. But he said lawmakers probably can’t wait for a potential cash infusion from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, whose apparent softening of support throughout New England could complicate an effort that Baker has roundly supported.
“There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of support for the concept, at least that I see right now,” DeLeo said Wednesday, citing media reports. The Winthrop Democrat suggested he’s “especially concerned” about the uneven backing among Massachusetts’s immediate New England neighbors.
The initiative, known as TCI, would impose a new fuel cost at the wholesale level by establishing a system of carbon pollution allowances for up to a dozen states. The goal, proponents say, is to slice carbon emissions from transportation by up to 25 percent over a decade, but in doing so, it is likely to drive up the costs at the pump anywhere from 5 cents to 17 cents a gallon. The Baker administration expects up to $500 million in new annual revenue once it goes into effect, which could happen as soon as 2022.
New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, however, has already opted out, and his counterparts in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine have all thrown up caution flags, directly or indirectly, in recent weeks. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has said she’s “fully committed” to TCI’s goals, but Nicholas Mattiello, Rhode Island’s House speaker, has signaled he’s against it.
Officials released a draft agreement in December, and each state could make a final decision later this year whether to participate.
“What I was looking for as we went through this process was to make sure especially that the New England states would be on board,” DeLeo said.
“Now, I’m not saying they’re all off,” he added. “Right now, first of all, for us to wait for that to go into effect, we could be waiting two or three years. I don’t think we can wait that long.”
DeLeo had first said he intended to take up a transportation financing bill last fall before pushing it into 2020. He told the State House News in November that he was “shooting for January” and his transportation chairman, Representative William M. Straus, has said that was still a target.
But DeLeo offered no firm timeline Wednesday other than a possible vote in winter. The bill’s actual contents have, too, remained a mystery, with options ranging from a gas tax hike to increased fees on ride-hail trips through Uber, Lyft, and other companies.
DeLeo insisted that the lack of a clear timetable shouldn’t be interpreted as him “backing off.”
“You can rest assured, first of all, there will be a debate relative to transportation funding,” he said. “It seems to me that every day that goes by, there’s a further example, I think, of the need for transportation revenue and for some work to begin relative to our transportation system.”
The support, or lack thereof, for TCI within the Legislature, meanwhile, probably means more in the public discourse than it does on a legal level. Analysts and state officials say it’s likely Baker can commit Massachusetts to the agreement without legislative approval. In other states, it’s not so clear.
Straus said the public support in other states is important for the momentum of the agreement, not to mention a state’s ability to deter drivers from simply crossing the border to avoid higher gas prices created by the pact.
“That basic argument for TCI seems to have become a more cloudy one,” Straus said Wednesday.
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.