Gov. Patrick Shoots Down Latest Transportation Funding Proposal

The state’s top leader claims the bill doesn’t do enough to fund the state’s transit needs over the next decade.

It’s back to the drawing board for members of the House and Senate after Governor Deval Patrick turned down the latest transportation funding bill which received a favorable vote by elected officials on Beacon Hill.

Patrick said Tuesday that the transportation finance proposal did not deal with the anticipated loss of $135 million in existing revenue from tolls in Western Massachusetts that would stop being collected in 2017.

According to a statement from the governor’s office, the bill passed by the legislature relies on that revenue from the Western Turnpike tolls as part of the $805 million it guarantees to bring to transportation infrastructure, but under current law the tolls can come down in 2017, and the funds would dry up. Revenue generated under the transportation reform package is meant to help improve the state’s bridges, roads, and railways.

In a counter proposal, Patrick has offered an amendment that “ensures” the state will get adequate funding by raising the gas tax once the tolls are done away with. The state’s Commissioner of Revenue would handle this action, according to Patrick’s compromise, and would designate enough money to cover what was lost by the tolls being taken out of commission. “The people we serve need and deserve a modern, efficient and safe transportation system in every corner of the Commonwealth,” said Patrick. “The $805 million in new revenue proposed by the legislature would bring meaningful progress toward delivering that kind of system, but the legislation before me does not yet achieve that. This amendment makes certain that the people can count on the full $805 million.”

Patrick has stood by his earlier statements that the state needs more than $1 billion in new investments over the next 10 years in order to sufficiently fund the transportation system in Massachusetts.

His appraisal is based on comments, research, and meetings with transit experts and members of the community, he said.

The back and forth between Patrick and members of the legislature has been going on since early April, and has included some slight jabs from both sides in regards to proposals put on the table.

That month, during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Senate President Therese Murray bashed the governor’s original proposal, and told reporters that the legislature was stung by public remarks made by Patrick about a conflict between the two parties at that time.

On Tuesday, following Patrick’s announcement that he would send back the lengthy bill, Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a joint statement saying Patrick’s plan to raise the gas tax, once tolls were eliminated  would hurt working families. “Last week, the Legislature passed a carefully calibrated revenue proposal that solves long-standing financial problems within the transportation system. The administration’s proposal tying the question of tolls in Western Massachusetts—a plan not even mentioned in its original bill—to a four cents gas tax increase places too high a burden on the taxpayers of our state. This threatens working families and businesses still fighting to overcome the financial downturn. Therefore, we will ask our respective chambers to reject the administration’s proposal,” the statement said.

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