On Thursday, Feb. 13, Governor Charlie Baker joined Boston Public Radio for his monthly appearance on “Ask the Governor.” During the segment, Baker discussed criticism of the Transportation Climate Initiative from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, the maintenance that is schedule to take place on the MBTA this summer and construction on South Station. He also offered his thoughts on a bill that could grant drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Baker responds to New Hampshire Gov. Sununu’s criticism of TCI
Governor Baker has been lobbying for states to sign onto the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). The TCI is an interstate compact with 10 other states and the District of Columbia. If implemented, fuel suppliers operating within participating states will be required to purchase permits to emit certain levels of carbon dioxide. Advocates of the compact say that the revenue generated from these permits can be used to fund transportation projects such as purchasing electric buses or expanding rail service to underserved areas.
On Tuesday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said New Hampshire will not participate, doubled down on his criticisms of the TCI. Sunusnu said that chief among his concerns is that the initiative could raise gasoline prices — essentially amounting to a gas tax. Officials have estimated that if the cost of the carbon permits is completely passed onto consumers, it could result in higher gasoline prices at the pump.
“There’s a couple reasons why this is horribly flawed. First, a 17 cent gas tax that’s going to be done regionally where we all pool the money together and essentially pump it all down to Boston to pay off the billions of dollars in debt for the MBTA and other crumbling infrastructure in Massachusetts?” Sununu said. “It’s just a bad idea.”
On Thursday, Baker defended the TCI and said he believed that it would provide an incentive for fuel suppliers to invest in designing more carbon efficient fuel.
Baker also shot down Sununu’s notion that New Hampshire would receive no economic benefit from being a partner state and said states will be allowed to keep any revenue from permits sold in their state.
“I don’t support increasing the gas tax because the gas tax doesn’t get you anything,” Baker said. “The thing I like about the Transportation Climate Initiative is because you’re creating a mechanism by which fuel suppliers have to purchase credits to actually put carbon based fuels into your vehicle if they come up with a less carbon based fuel to put into your vehicle it costs them less to do that. It creates an incentive for them to do it.”
Commutes are going to be rougher but it will be worth it, Baker said
Boston residents and commuters were hit with the news of two different disruptions to their already difficult commutes throughout the city. In the summer, construction of a new office complex above South Station is expected to begin. Then, in the fall, the MBTA announced plans install new fare collection gates in South Station to make them easier to collect. Also occurring in the summer will be closures of portions of the MBTA’s green line, with some portions being closed for nearly a month in July.
On Thursday, Baker said that he sympathizes with the disruption that will happen, but his administration chose July to work on the green line in particular because it is heavily used by students. On South Station, Baker said the construction of the new office complex is out of his hands, but commuters will benefit from the planned building of a new bus terminal there. He added that his administration will consider delaying the installation of fare gates if they deem them to be too disruptive.
“[The South Station project] was something that just kind of came to us, and we’re going to be flexible in how we deal with the gates,” Baker said. “We’re not going to go ahead and install them until we get to the point that we’re comfortable that they can be installed in a way that doesn’t create more trouble for people who are trying to deal with the issues associated with the construction of the building.”
Baker opposed to providing undocumented immigrants with drivers licenses
A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 14-4 vote Tuesday. Senate President Karen Spilka also approved of the bill. Baker previously signaled that he would veto a bill if sent to him and on Thursday he said the idea still made him uncomfortable. The bill would eliminate a provision in state law that says one must have “lawful presence in the United States” to be granted a license. If implemented, the new rules would only require that an applicant provide an ID with a photograph and one with their date of birth and allow people to use a foreign passport as one form.
Proponents of issuing licenses, like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, have said that it will improve safety by ensuring more drivers are properly licensed. Baker, however, said that his larger concern is that providing licenses could lead to security issues or issues with voter registration, which is tied to license registration.
“A drivers license is not just a drivers license it’s much more than that, and I’ve said for a very long time that I have a problem with issuing licenses to people who are by definition undocumented,” Baker said. “No one has ever been able to convince me that you can run a program like this without worrying about the issues associated with security”