Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has revealed the first spending blueprint of her administration with more than one-half billion dollars for transportation.
The $55.5 billion budget recommendation for fiscal year 2024 includes $529 million for the Department of Transportation.
Local transportation projects would receive $100 million. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority would get $187 million.
Healey said the budget makes investments to improve all modes of transportation, from highways, roads and bridges to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
The governor is proposing to use $500,000 to translate commercial driver’s license permit tests into eight languages.
Currently, Massachusetts’ Class A, B, and C learner’s permit exams are only available in English. According to the state’s official website, learner’s permit exams for passenger vehicle licenses and motorcycle licenses are available in 26 languages.
Healey’s administration also wants to use $28 million to implement a new law that allows for people without legal immigration status to apply for standard driver’s licenses.
Massachusetts previously has not made available driver’s licenses without U.S. citizenship or lawful presence.
The new law enables all qualified state residents to apply for a standard state driver’s license, regardless of immigration status.
“This law represents a monumental step forward for safety and equity in the commonwealth, ensuring that drivers on Massachusetts roadways have demonstrated their knowledge of driving laws and are able to access insurance coverage,” Healey wrote.
Advocates point out that 16 other states already offer licenses to affected residents.
The governor added that the funds can be used “to expand service hours at select Registry of Motor Vehicles locations, add new customer service representatives and road test examiners to support additional applicants, and bolster support staff to ensure records and credentials are properly vetted and processed.”
In addition to the transportation money included in the state budget. Healey said transportation will receive $490 million in fiscal year 2024 via a new millionaires’ tax.
In November, Massachusetts voters approved a tax on the state’s wealthiest residents. The additional revenue provides some benefit for transportation purposes.
Dubbed the Fair Share Amendment, Question 1 on the Massachusetts statewide ballot called for revising the state constitution to create an additional tax of 4% for household income above $1 million.
Voters approved the question by a margin of 52% to 48%.
The state already has a 5% flat-rate income tax. Passage of Question 1 will result in the tax rate increasing to 9% for the state’s wealthiest residents.
An estimated $1.2 billion annually will be applied for public education, roads and bridges, and public transit.
Advocates said that tapping the state’s richest to help others will benefit everyone. Critics countered that a millionaires’ tax could result in some of the state’s wealthiest residents leaving the state, which they point out would place a bigger financial burden on those responsible for paying the tax who remain. LL