Dissatisfied with the current pace of improvements to transportation systems and services, the chamber has joined two statewide business coalitions that plan to issue recommendations to address the state’s transportation needs.
“Inadequate mass transit, road congestion and the growing threat of climate change are holding back our economic growth and imperiling our future,” said Newton-Needham Regional Chamber President Greg Reibman.
“We need to step up and demand action, but also be willing to be part of the solution.”
The two business coalitions formed after recent calls from Beacon Hill for help identifying solutions, following the release late last year of an ambitious -- and alarming -- report forecasting transportation needs and challenges facing the state between 2020 and 2040.
The 250-page report by the Commission on the Future of Transportation in the Commonwealth, a group created by Gov. Charlie Baker, took a deep dive into traffic, autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing services and how land use and housing impacts transportation policies. It also explored the dire consequences of ignoring rising sea levels and extreme weather.
The report made 18 recommendations, but generally did not address how to pay for them.
But then Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka announced in separate speeches that they were interested in suggestions from the business community on transportation policy.
"We want to make sure the business community clearly articulates the policies that it can unite behind," DeLeo told business leaders in Cambridge recently. “I'm looking for you, quite frankly, to unite with us, join with us and give us some ideas in terms of how you feel we can do a better job than we're doing right now."
“We are in a unique political moment right now where advocates, elected officials and the public all agree that something must be done,” Spilka said at a separate event. "I personally think it would be a mistake to waste that moment on incremental changes and small ideas.”
The Massachusetts Business Coalition on Transportation, which includes many of the state’s largest business associations, is chaired by Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Rooney, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Tim Murray, Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross and Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council CEO Richard Sullivan.
A second coalition was created by Alliance for Business Leadership and the Kendall Square Association. Participating organizations include the Boston NAACP, some smaller chambers and the public policy think tank MassINC.
Newton-Needham Chamber President Reibman has been participating in both groups.
"Both coalitions represent a wide range of business and geographic areas, each with their own unique and complex transportation systems, needs and agendas," Reibman said.
Revenue ideas include increasing the gas tax, congestion pricing (increased tolls prices at rush hour), carbon taxes, increased fees on ride hail services such as Uber and Lyft, and the recently proposed “Fair Share” income tax on earnings over $1 million.
"The goal is to reach a consensus around a slate of revenue-raising concepts to present to lawmakers later this year," Reibman said, "noting that while subway and train fares are about to increase for the fourth time since 2012, the last gas tax increase was in 2013 and was repealed one year later by voters. Massachusetts’ gas tax rate ranks 30th among all states."
Public-private sector solutions and proper fiscal management are also on the table.
“We’re never going to agree on every remedy but we’ve all already agreed that improving our statewide transportation infrastructure is an urgent matter, particularly as it relates to our economic and cultural vitality,” Reibman said.
“And we’ve agreed that it’s critical that businesses need to have a seat at the table and be part of the solution,” Reibman said.