Polls, focus groups find voters open to revenues for transportation improvements


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Voters recognize potential benefits of raising revenue; support rises with specifics on spending

Massachusetts voters see the potential benefits of raising additional revenue for transportation improvements and are open to several possible sources of revenue, according to a report on a series of polls and focus groups released today by MassINC and The MassINC Polling Group. Detailing how funds will be spent appears to boost that support, the research finds.

The year-long public opinion research project, which included two statewide polls of 1,500 registered voters, nine focus groups with registered voters, and interviews with transportation experts across the state, also reveals that voters statewide favor investing in both roads and transit rather than one mode over the other. This groundbreaking study represents the most in-depth, comprehensive study of public opinion on transportation in Massachusetts.

Voters are open to several revenue options, and support rises when specifics are given on how the funds would be spent. The research explored support for a variety of transportation-related taxes and fees – the gas tax, tolls, fares, registration fees, and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fees – as well as a combination of increasing the income tax, cutting the sale tax and closing tax loopholes. Three options (tolls, fares and the income/sales/loopholes combination) received the support of at least half of respondents when used for general transportation improvements (See Figure).

Support for each revenue option increased when respondents were told that funds would be earmarked for either transit or for roadways. With these details, eight combinations of revenues and uses crossed the 50-percent threshold, as shown in the chart. (For full question order and wording, see Appendix B of the attached report or read more at massincpolling.com.)

“Voters say they are open to supporting different revenue ideas,” said Steve Koczela, President of The MassINC Polling Group and one of the authors of the report. “By addressing voters’ interest in specifics and spreading investments between transportation modes, majority support for any of several different revenue options appears within reach.”

There is broad recognition, across regions, of the potential benefits of raising additional funds for transportation. Just over six in ten voters in both polls say they would be willing to pay $50 per person per year for a “sustainable funding stream for the roads network and public transportation systems.” About half were willing to pay $100, and about a third were open to $200 per year. Three of the four strongest arguments for new transportation revenues revolve around jobs: creating new transportation-related construction jobs; connecting workers to jobs through transit; and keeping Massachusetts an attractive state for business.

Voters statewide want to invest in both roads and transit; regional differences are less than expected. A majority (57 percent) overall, and pluralities in every region, favored investing in both roads and transit. This support for transit outside Greater Boston ran contrary to the expectations of many of experts interviewed at the outset of this process.

Assuring voters that funds will be used efficiently and only for transportation helps overcome distrust. Sixty percent of voters favor locking in revenues for transportation, compared to 28 percent who think revenues should not be restricted. About three in four (77 percent) strongly agree that a list of proposed projects should be provided. Seventy-one percent said ensuring projects would be done on time and on budget would make them more likely to support additional revenues.

These views are linked to voters’ skepticism about state government spending. Seventy-one percent blame “waste and mismanagement” for current funding shortfalls, a challenge for leaders preparing to ask for additional revenues. The other main public opinion challenge to raising new funds is a lack of public understanding of the run-down condition of the transportation network, despite the many public and private reports on this issue.  When asked about the overall quality of various components of the transportation system, only between 11 and 22 percent of voters statewide described their condition as “poor” in the September 2012 poll.

The research process was overseen by MassINC and conducted by The MassINC Polling Group. This report was made possible thanks to support from the Barr Foundation. The entire research project was guided by a steering committee made up of a diverse group of leaders from across the many sectors interested in this issue.

“Our goal with this project is to provide state leaders with a deep and meaningful understanding of public opinion as they debate this critical issue,” said Greg Torres, President of MassINC. “Transportation has been a focus of ours for a long time. This is a significant body of work for us that goes far beyond the other public opinion research on this issue that has been done to date.”

About this research: In all, the project included two public opinion polls, nine focus groups and interviews with transportation experts across the state. For additional methodological details, please refer to Appendix A of the attached report or at massincpolling.com. More details and crosstabs from the polls are available at massincpolling.com.

  • Expert interviews: In preparation for the focus group and survey phases of this project, MassINC and The MassINC Polling Group conducted several dozen individual discussions and interviews with stakeholders and experts on transportation issues.
  • Focus groups: Nine focus groups of 8 to 12 registered voters each were held in Boston, Framingham, Northampton, Springfield, Pittsfield, Salem, Lowell, Hingham, and New Bedford.
  • Polls: Two public opinion polls were conducted: one in September of 2012 and one in February of 2013. Each poll included a representative sample of approximately 1,500 registered voters across Massachusetts. The polls were conducted using live telephone interviewers.

About MassINC: MassINC, a nonprofit, independent think tank and publisher of CommonWealth magazine, is committed to using non-partisan research, civic journalism and public forums to stimulate debate and shape public policy. Our mission is to promote a public agenda for the middle class and to help all citizens achieve the American dream.