KENNEDY AND KERRY ANNOUNCE RECORD TRANSPORTATION FUNDING FOR MASSACHUSETTS - A $1.17 BILLION INCREASE OVER TEA-21
Massachusetts To Get $563 Million More for Mass Transit and $604 Million More for Highways - for a 28% Transportation Funding Increase over Previous Transportation Bill Includes Immediate $50 Increase in Commuter Tax Benefit And A $95 Increase By 2010.
WASHINGTON, DC - Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry today announced substantial victories for Massachusetts in the $295 billion Senate transportation bill expected to pass Tuesday night. The bill will now go to a joint House and Senate Conference where Kennedy and Kerry will work with the Massachusetts Congressional delegation led by Congressman Mike Capuano to ensure the most robust final bill possible for the Commonwealth.
The Senate bill has drawn several veto threats from President George Bush, who insists that its $295 billion price tag is too much - even when his own Department of Transportation estimates that each $1 billion of federal transportation investment supports 47,000 jobs. The Administration was handed a stinging rebuke last week when the Senate voted 92-7 to bring debate on the bill to a close and clear the path toward final passage - despite the veto threats.
"President Bush might not want to invest in jobs, but we'll fight for them. This bill is a victory for Massachusetts' economy, its environment, and its commuters," Senator Kennedy said. "With congestion at an all-time high, these record funding levels are the shot in the arm we need to strengthen all parts of our state. Our Senate and House delegation will fight hard to preserve this victory in the final bill."
"With increasing traffic congestion and diminishing air quality, investing in transportation and transit is one of the smartest investments we can make. It's a sad statement that the administration would threaten to veto this bill, especially with all the good-paying jobs it creates. We need to get it signed into law, and we will fight to keep the record funding for Massachusetts in the final bill," said Senator Kerry.
Specifically, the Senate bill would guarantee that Massachusetts gets $3.694 billion for highway and roadway investments over six years - a $604 million increase of the funding provided under the previous transportation bill, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which passed in 1998. Massachusetts secured $3.09 billion over six years under TEA-21.
The Senate bill, named the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFTEA), would also provide a record $1.643 billion for Massachusetts mass transit investments over six years, an increase of $563 million over TEA-21's mass transit funding for Massachusetts.
"From Boston to the Cape to the Berkshires, these critical funds will put more people to work, promote economic development, and help combat congestion," Senator Kennedy said.
"This bill will create jobs in every region in the state, reduce pollution, cut down on congestion and help improve the quality of life we value so much in Massachusetts," said Senator Kerry.
Finally, the bill would raise the federal employer-provided mass transit tax benefit from its current level of $105 per month to $155 per month immediately, and then raise it again to $200 in 2010 - which would create parity with the current federal parking tax benefit of $200.
This increase would enable employers who currently provide commuting benefits to their employees - including all forms of mass transit and vanpool arrangements -- to increase the amounts they provide tax free to cover greater portion of employee commuting expenses. According to the most recent figures from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), companies purchased an average of 88,000 monthly passes for Massachusetts commuters in January, February, and March of this year.
In addition, by increasing the value of the tax benefit, this provision will also help encourage more employers to start offering the benefit to workers who currently use T monthly passes, but who might not necessarily receive the benefit at the current time.
"The commuter tax benefit an effective way to reduce congestion and wear and tear on our roads, while encouraging environmentally sound mass transit ridership," Senator Kennedy said. "This increase will mean significant new financial relief for many more Massachusetts commuters."
"The Senate has recognized the value of mass transit by increasing the tax benefit for the millions of Americans who use transit everyday. Not only does this help Massachusetts, but it will provide a greater incentive for commuters across the country to use transit," said Senator Kerry.
Today, approximately 194,000 of the MBTA's current 1.1 million daily bus, subway, and commuter rail riders -- nearly 18% -- use monthly T passes. The highest priced monthly T packages often exceed $140 for commuter rail passengers from outlying cities. Some of those monthly fares are: Brockton $149; Fitchburg $198; Gloucester $191; Haverhill $191; Lawrence $181; Lowell $181; Middleboro/Lakeville $198; and Worcester $198.
Employers seeking additional information on the federal tax benefit for employee commuting expenses are welcome to contact MassRides, which helps employers establish commuting programs for workers. MassRides can be reached at www.commute.com or 1-888-4COMMUTE.