MPG President Steve Koczela testifies on regional ballots for transportation
Below is MPG President Steve Koczela's testimony about public support for regional ballot initiatives to fund transportation projects in Massachusetts. Steve testified before the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Committee on Revenue on April 10, 2017. Chairmen Kaufman and Brady, members of the committee, good morning. My name is Steve Koczela and I am the President of The MassINC Polling Group. I am here to discuss public support for the idea of allowing regional ballots for transportation funding, as proposed in House Bill 1640.
I’ve previously testified to this committee about public support for this idea, which is strong compared to other revenue options for transportation. Since then we have polled the idea another time and found similarly strong support. We have now asked voters about regional ballots for transportation five times since 2012, all as part of research projects funded by the Barr Foundation. Each of the surveys contained several other revenue-related topics and ideas, so we have a variety of revenue mechanisms to compare.
We asked about regional ballots in statewide polls using two different question wordings in 2012 and 2013, before the legislature took up the question of funding for transportation. In 2015, after the MBTA’s winter breakdown, we again asked about the idea in two separate polls, one conducted with voters inside Route 128 and one statewide. In late 2016, we asked about it and other revenue ideas to fund transportation in a statewide poll.
Through all this research, we have found a remarkably widespread and stable level of support for the idea. Across the five polls, between 70 and 81 percent of voters support the concept of giving cities and towns or regional planning agencies the authority to place transportation funding measures for their areas on the ballot for voters to approve or reject. Between 42 and 52 percent strongly agree with the idea. The most recent poll, from November 2016, showed the highest level of support and the lowest opposition.
We also explored the idea of regional financing for transportation during focus groups held across the state in 2012. Focus groups can help move beyond the raw numbers to understand what voters may think about a proposal. These particular focus groups offer some insight into the challenges of communicating this issue to the public Some participants questioned how a regional funding system would be implemented. Others worried their region would end up worse off if left only with funds it could raise on its own. This underscored the need for some level of public communication and education, if such an approach were to be taken. Nonetheless, the polling from this period shows that, despite these questions, the idea enjoys strong support.
Regional ballots for transportation also have a strong track record of success in other parts of the country. According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, from to 2013 to 2016, 70 percent of local and regional ballot measures related to transportation were successful – meaning voters approved new funding or rejected an attempt to scale back existing funding.
It’s important to stress that our poll results do not necessarily mean that voters across the state would vote to raise their own taxes for transportation projects in their area. It only means that they support the idea of having such questions put to them on the ballot and allowing others to do the same. The success of a specific local or regional ballot question would depend on many factors, including the type of tax being raised, the project or projects which the new revenue would be used to build or maintain, and of course the effort and resources put into supporting or opposing the ballot measure. Our research suggests that providing voters with a list of specific projects on which funds will be spent and assuring voters that funds will only be spent on those projects each help to increase support for new funding.
In conclusion, our polling suggests the potential for strong support for regional ballots for transportation as laid out in House Bill 1640. I’m happy to answer any questions from the committee regarding our research into this issue. Thank you.