Gov. Charlie Baker, left, Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack, center, and MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak present an $18 billion transportation bonding bill to the press on July 25, 2019. State House News Service Photo | Sam Doran.

To fight congestion, Gov. Charlie Baker is proposing a new program, capped at $50 million per year, that would give employers a $2,000-per-employee tax credit if they let workers telecommute and therefore avoid traveling on already-clogged roads during rush hour.

The program is part of an $18 billion borrowing bill that includes $2.7 billion for MBTA projects like new Red and Orange line cars. Baker announced the bill in a press conference Thursday.

Baker said Massachusetts “seems to be a laggard” compared to other states in how frequently employees work from home, which can be a viable strategy to reduce congestion. While other states have floated similar ideas, none have enacted such a policy, according to the governor.

“We’re hoping that by creating a financial incentive to get people to move in this direction, we will get people to play,” Baker said. “A lot of employers have said to us that if there were an incentive in place, they would take it a lot more seriously.”

Close to a third of the funding in the borrowing bill would be directed toward the MBTA, including a new $2.7 billion for reliability, modernization and expansion projects over the next decade not currently included in the agency’s five-year capital plan. The additional money will fund infrastructure improvements, bus and commuter rail network updates and more.

Replacement of the entire Red and Orange line fleets – projects already underway that would receive significant funding under the borrowing legislation – would add 85,000 seats to the network by the time both are complete in 2023, Baker said.

The bill would also authorize changes to procurement processes at the MBTA, allowing it to more rapidly advance improvement projects.

“What we have done already is not enough,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said at the press conference. “We have to repair and modernize our transportation system faster and provide our workers with more and better options for getting where they need to go.”

In the long term, Baker wants the T to gain additional funding from a multi-state initiative aimed at reducing carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Nine states continue to negotiate parameters for the Transportation Climate Initiative, and once they determine how it will function – likely via a cap-and-invest program similar to RGGI – half of what Massachusetts receives would be allocated to the MBTA under Baker’s bond bill.

The governor said Thursday it is too early to estimate how much revenue public transit officials could expect as a result of that provision.

“It’s expected that the negotiations going on currently between the states around program design would probably be resolved some time in early 2020, and at that point in time, we would obviously communicate that to the legislature as they deliberate this legislation,” Baker said. “That’s my way of saying I can’t answer that question today, but we certainly understand we need to answer that question in time for the Legislature to incorporate it into their plan.”

Other components of the borrowing target climate goals, too. The $330 million sought for the state’s 15 regional transit authorities would help them transition to carbon-neutral electric buses, officials said.

Although it does not increase the Chapter 90 reimbursement cities and towns receive for road repairs each year as municipal leaders have long requested, the legislation creates a $100 million Municipal Paving Program to help address locally owned roads in poor condition and a $1.25 billion “next-generation” fund for bridge maintenance. Another new $50 million fund would award grants to municipalities to install bus lanes, modern signals and make other improvements.

“If the legislature enacts something that resembles this piece of legislation by the end of this session, Massachusetts will have the biggest arsenal of tools and capabilities it has ever had to make our transportation network cleaner, safer and better able to meet the needs of our residents and communities,” Baker said.

To Fight Congestion, Baker Pitches Work from Home Tax Credit

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min