Governor and Legislature Face Off Over Transportation Funding Bill

The Senate will review a $500 million transportation bill passed by the House, but Gov. Patrick has a difference of opinion.

The Ride

Governor Deval Patrick and members of the state legislature are embroiled in an ongoing battle on Beacon Hill, as the two sides remain divided over how to best fund Massachusetts’ ailing transportation system.

In January, Patrick put out a $1 billion proposal that would essentially fund statewide transportation projects and close the MBTA’s budget gap by raising the income tax, while also designating money towards the state’s education system.

On April 2, leaders from the House of Representatives and Senate released their own $500 million joint transportation finance plan—one that had vast differences from Patrick’s proposal—that they say would address certain funding issues and close a projected operating budget gap in Massachusetts, and move statewide road and public transit projects forward.

The plan included increases to the gas tax, business taxes, and a $1 increase on the price of tobacco. But both local transportation advocates and Patrick disagreed with the legislature’s approach, which has led to large protests outside of the State House and at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Boston.

Regardless, the House passed their version of the bond bill this week, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the matter soon. But Patrick has already said when it lands on his desk he plans to veto it. “The problem is you are asking people everywhere in the Commonwealth to pay, and not actually delivering anything for them at home. The reason that I think that is bad politics is, at that level the legislature is going to be back here in a few years and…everybody [is] going to say ‘What happened? You just asked us for $500 million, and I don’t see any change,’” Patrick said during an interview with reporters outside of his office on Tuesday. “So I say, look, lets make it a long term fix…lets have a real solution instead of a patch where we pretend it’s a solution.”

Patrick went on to say, during a radio interview with WGBH, that the $500 million plan is not an “end all solution.” Despite the governor’s claims, Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement that the bill is “responsible legislation” that she will continue to support. “[It will] solve current problems in our transportation system without hurting our recovery and putting unnecessary burdens on working families who are still trying to make it. Our plan requires transportation agencies to contribute a fair share of their budget and follow through on unmet reforms. It also sets the table for future investments in transportation as the Commonwealth comes back into economic strength and stability,” she said.

Patrick says the need for adequate transportation funding goes beyond the back and forth between elected officials, however, and needs to focus more on fixing a broken system. “It’s about whether we are going to deliver…a functional, modern, up to date transportation system to [the people of the Commonwealth],” he says. “I’m looking forward to working with the legislature to help formulate a bill that will both address the state’s infrastructure needs, and the needs of the Massachusetts education system. We still have got a lot of work to do to get there.”