Patrick’s transportation tax plan going nowhere fast

The beat down on Gov. Deval Patrick’s $1.9 billion tax plan continues.  A careful listener at Tuesday’s transportation oversight confab heard the sound of the solons of Beacon Hill unwilling to raise the income tax, without which Patrick’s solution to the state’s transportation crisis, an income tax hike/sales tax decrease, falls apart.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and a long-time advocate for increased transportation investments, said the state could make do with $800 million annually, 20 percent less than what Patrick asked for. He gave the gas tax a thumbs-up, warning that an income tax increase would go into general revenues and would not necessarily flow to transportation, while skimming over the fact that under Patrick’s plan sales tax revenues would go exclusively to transportation as well as education.

The resurrection of the gas tax, an idea that House Speaker Robert DeLeo shot down four years ago, likely has Patrick banging his head on a Corner Office wall.

Some lawmakers do support the governor’s plan to generate new transportation revenues. Rep. Dave Rogers, a Cambridge Democrat, is all in.  Then again, anyone who rides the MBTA’s Red Line during a rainstorm and sees water flowing into stations from strange places would probably support greater transit investments.

What is preventing state lawmakers from taking corrective action is their constituents’ distaste for the kind of tax increases that would get the state’s transportation network beyond the current program of plugging leaks and patching potholes.  

Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, warned of dire electoral consequences and laid the problem at the feet of taxpayers who want things (like South Coast Rail, presumably) but who “may not want to pay for them.”

A State House auditorium full of Democratic activists, who turned out en masse to cheer Patrick and tax increases, is not likely to change this viewpoint, one that many of Pacheco’s colleagues quietly agree with.

But raising the gas tax a paltry 15 cents has all the hallmarks of another inadequate fix to a problem that worsens with every passing rainstorm.

Business and transportation advocates’ insistence on generating transportation revenues dedicated to transportation needs also risks underfunding solutions since many of those ideas, like a vehicle-miles-traveled levy, remain trapped in the conceptual stages.

                                                                                                                        –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray is pushing a state initiative to eliminate homelessness among veterans, WBUR reports. The Mission Direct Vet program gives troubled vets a lifeline, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Sherri Killins, who just resigned as commissioner of Early Education and Care, will continue receiving her $200,000-a-year salary for two months while she works from her New Haven, Connecticut, home, the Herald reports.

Attorney General Martha Coakley keeps up her hunt for compensation information for Northeast Utilities chief executive Tom May.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Manchester residents try to raise awareness of the estimated $52 million in unfunded pension and post-retirement liabilities the town faces, the Gloucester Times reports.

The Braintree licensing board has suspended the liquor license of a bar owned by state Sen. Robert Hedlund for one day for over-serving an intoxicated patron.

Newton voters approve an $11.4 million tax increase.

The Fall River City Council has given initial approval to a measure that would require voters to approve any bonding request over $20 million.

Amesbury considers trading its aging city hall for new leased office space.

Boston will hire a new company to provide bus service to its public school students after two years of chronic problems with the current contractor.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A former Republican pollster for George W. Bush says opposition to gay marriage is a dead-end for the GOP.

The Atlantic and Slate both knock Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget for declaring class warfare on behalf of the rich, but Paul Krugman can’t even bother denouncing this guy anymore. The Wall Street Journal editorial page rides to Ryan’s rescue.

Expanded checks on gun buyers are approved by a US Senate panel, the Wall Street Journal reports.

ELECTIONS

The three GOP Senate candidates aired their differences over gun control and the sequester, among other issues, at their first debate, held yesterday at Stonehill College. Here is NECN’s video of the debate. The three GOP candidates have something in common: None of them will be telling bad jokes from the rostrum of Bill Linehan’s St. Patrick’s Day roast in South Boston. Linehan says he’s reserving speaking slots for elected officials this year, not politicking hopefuls, but being a twice-elected state rep. apparently wasn’t enough to get Dan Winslow on stage.

Richard Sullivan Jr., the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, is reportedly exploring a run for either governor or lieutenant governor in 2014, the State House News reports (via Lowell Sun).

RELIGION

The Globe profiles the two American cardinals being touted as possible popes — Boston’s Sean O’Malley and New York’s Timothy Dolan — and their wildly divergent styles.

The view from one knowledgeable Vatican watcher: The longer the conclave goes, the better O’Malley’s chances.

EDUCATION

Governors in Florida, Wisconsin, and North Carolina say they want to tie state school funding to the success of graduates in finding jobs, Bloomberg reports.

Acushnet selectmen gave approval to a proposal to place a police officer in each of the town’s schools in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings.

HEALTH CARE

A new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation indicates 3.9 percent of the state’s population lacks health insurance, with those uncovered concentrated in Barnstable, Chelsea, Everett, Revere, Lawrence, Brockton, Lynn, and New Bedford.

TRANSPORTATION

Lowell officials discuss a MassINC report suggesting greater investment in transportation in Gateway Cities would bring jobs and economic growth, the Sun reports.

A Boston taxi fleet is suing the smartphone app maker Uber Technologies over its livery car service

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A report finds 45 Pennsylvania state officials with ties to the natural gas fracking industry in the Keystone State, Governing reports.

NASA officials say the Mars rover has found that the red planet was suitable for life in ancient times. Maybe they should have put the money in a time machine rather than a spaceship.

Scituate selectmen voted against a petition from residents looking to shut down the town’s wind turbine over fears the town could face costly lawsuits. In Lynn, meanwhile, a contractor hired to put up a wind turbine is facing criticism for delays, the Item reports.

MEDIA

The Herald’s Howie Carr goes after “Dunce Deval” and the Globe over the resignation of Sherri Killins, the former commissioner of Early Education and Care.

Federal officials raided a pirate radio station in Brockton and confiscated the broadcasting equipment.