Opening the door for a near-term debate over transportation and transportation financing on Beacon Hill, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Massachusetts business community Tuesday morning that he is open to tax hikes or just about any other prescription to address the state’s critical needs – but he first wants to know what businesses will support.

The speaker said he wants to talk with the business community about transportation financing, but also about ways to alleviate congestion on the roads. He said he knows that transportation needs vary throughout the state but because “the business community has told me repeatedly of their interest in resolving this issue,” he wants them involved in identifying solutions.

“I know that many in this room have already embarked on thoughtful and productive projects, studies and working groups. We want to make sure, however, that the business community clearly articulates the transportation policies that it can unite behind,” DeLeo told the business breakfast crowd at the Seaport Hotel. He said that he is “interested in what employers can bring to the table as we think about the state’s transportation networks as we experience this transition. What are your ideas? How can employers become more flexible to help ease rush hour congestion? Can and should the state incentiveize innovative transit solutions?”

Late last month, A Better City released a report detailing an $8.4 billion shortfall in revenues needed to ensure state roads, bridges and MBTA infrastructure are in a state of good repair over the next 10 years. Business groups have decried the Boston area’s public transportation woes as a hindrance to business growth.

DeLeo acknowledged the state and the business community have worked to improve transportation in the past, but noted, “People often forget that the Legislature’s attempts to direct money into transportation were reversed at the ballot box.”

Asked after his speech about gas tax indexing – which voters repealed at the ballot in 2014 – DeLeo said that some state representatives have already approached him to say they would support another attempt to tie the gas tax to inflation.

“Some members have already approached me on it, they feel that they could support,” he said. “It’s never an easy issue to take up, but again, I think we’re at a stage where if we’re going to get serious about addressing this issue then everything and anything has to be on the table.”

State Sen. Joseph Boncore, who chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation, said even with DeLeo’s interest, Boncore sees another potential obstacle before a higher gas tax or increased ride-hailing fees could be put into effect: Gov. Charlie Baker.

“The biggest challenge is that the governor has said he’s not a fan of revenue in this session,” Boncore said.

Boncore himself has filed bills to implement peak pricing on ride-hailing services and to launch congestion tolls in East Boston’s tunnels.

Boncore praised Baker’s commitment to a multi-state effort to reduce transportation emissions, noting revenue from the program can help investments. The governor’s interest in ideas such as a higher gas tax or greater fees on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, though, is less clear.

Asked about revenue supports for transportation on Tuesday, Baker indicated the administration would file a transportation bond bill this session and restated the administration’s plans to invest $8 billion in public transit over the next five years.

“We look forward to having this discussion with the legislature,” Baker said, according to a transcript provided by his office. “But there’s a lot of money that’s going to be put into transportation over the course of the next several years under any scenario.”

In Speech, DeLeo Asks Businesses for Unity on Money for Transit Fixes

by State House News Service time to read: 2 min