State Rep. Ellen Story tells Amherst seniors that transportation money will be among top issues
AMHERST — Transportation funding for agencies like the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will be among the first items on the state Legislature’s agenda when it begins work in January.
State Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, told the Council on Aging Thursday that she expects many of her colleagues to focus on ensuring that the T, which many in Boston depend on to commute to work and school, continues to function.
“One of the biggest things we’ll have to tackle is how get new revenues and new money,” Story said. “The reason we’ll tackle it is clear: because the MBTA doesn’t have enough money.”
Though this wouldn’t appear to be an issue that directly affects western Massachusetts, Story said enough legislators from outside the city will make a push to get revenues for the regional transit authorities at the same time.
This is good news for local riders, as the PVTA provides regular bus service and sends out vans to pick up senior citizens and disabled individuals. Earlier this year, the PVTA considered raising rates to meet a growing deficit.
Story said she is optimistic that leaders in the state Legislature are willing to consider new revenue that will go beyond just transportation needs.
She has long told her constituents the best way to do this is through increasing the state income tax. “I think we need to figure out how to raise taxes,” Story said.
This could bring in an additional $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually, and she is confident that, unlike the decision to increase the sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent, it will be less noticeable to residents because they only pay their income taxes once a year.
In addition, she said, exemptions on food and clothing have long ensured that taxes are not regressive in the state. “The myth of Taxachusetts is long, long gone,” Story.
Still, she acknowledged that many legislators will be terrified to enact any legislation that raises taxes.
“You can imagine what an uphill battle that’s going to be,” Story said.
They have seen voters reject, in ballot initiatives, efforts at a graduated income tax in which high earners would pay at a higher percentage than low earners.
“It’s change and people are afraid of it,” Story said.
Story said she has explored other revenue sources, including co-sponsoring legislation that would tax marijuana if it were legalized. The legislative session begins after all elected officials are sworn in at the Statehouse Jan. 2. Story said both veterans like herself and newcomers to the legislature will be present.
“There are some new people coming in who are going to be pretty good,” Story said.
Story said she is grateful President Obama won a second term, lending credibility to the work he has done during the last four years and meaning his election in 2008 will not be considered a historical fluke.