Transportation transparency fantasy land

House Speaker Robert DeLeo misspoke. The Speaker, out on a swing through Western Massachusetts, admitted that describing Gov. Deval Patrick’s transportation finance plan as “fantasy land” was a “poor choice of words.”

“I did not mean any disrespect when I stated that, but I just wanted the representatives to hear from me that there’s got to be somewhere between zero and $2 billion that we’ll get to,” he told The Berkshire Eagle.

Representatives hear quite a bit from Speaker DeLeo.  But it’s pretty much a one-way conversation, unless a member has an “R” affixed to one’s name. Take Minority Leader Brad Jones’s request for public hearings on the Speaker’s transportation finance plan, scheduled to be unveiled in early April.  A public hearing should be held, Jones argued, since the governor’s plan has already undergone considerable scrutiny.

One man’s transparency fantasy land is another man’s daymare. Holding public hearings on the Speaker’s transportation finance plan is politically dangerous for Beacon Hill leaders.

For starters, public hearings would expose the soft underbelly of regional tensions on transportation finance priorities. Greater Boston wants a check for $118 million before July 1 made out to the MBTA to avoid fare increases and a formula to put the decrepit transit authority back on track. Car-reliant Cape Cod and  Central and Western Massachusetts want their roads upgraded to 21st century standards; their transit systems to get their fair share, and their tax dollars spent back home.  And Southeastern Massachusetts just wants South Coast Rail.

What Speaker wants all this dirty laundry spilling out at a public hearing?

A true public hearing on transportation finance is also likely to produce the kind of drama that makes many lawmakers squirm. The usual suspects that turn out for invitation-only oversight hearings, like the one held two weeks ago, can be relied upon to produce predictable arguments in dulcet tones. Not so a standing-room-only Gardner Auditorium potentially overflowing with the disabled and the elderly, plus students and union members, all chanting and waving signs.

Giving into demands for transparency on a hot-button issue like transportation finance means a trip into a GOP fantasy land. And who wants to go there?

                                                                                                                                   –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Attleboro and Peabody, their median incomes dropping, join the Gateway Cities club, CommonWealth reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says he is leaving the job that he loves. NECN has video. WBUR has audio. The Globe floods the zone with coverage – and with a one-stop shopping link for all things Menino. Scot Lehigh offers the most balanced appraisal of Menino’s strengths — and shortcomings — amidst a sea of hagiography that seems to have lost sight of journalism’s reality-checking role. The Times write-up is here.

New Census data show the Boston metropolitan area attracted nearly 51,000 immigrants from abroad between 2010 and 2012, Governing reports.

The Marshfield Housing Authority met behind closed doors to discuss “criminal misconduct” allegations but would not comment on what the allegations are or who they are against.

The Salem City Council gives final approval to a $4.9 million bond for a new senior center, the Salem News reports.

The former Swansea Recreation Committee member, whose antics and criminal history were a major reason voters dissolved the board, says he will withdraw his complaint against the town library to get rid of the resident cat — with conditions.

The former Leominster police officer fired for yelling a racial slur at a Red Sox player wants his job back.

CASINOS

Vornado Realty Trust, a major stakeholder in Suffolk Downs, will sell off its shares in the track rather than submit to the extensive background checks required of casino bidders.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Three GOP senators — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee — are planning to stage a dramatic filibuster over gun control legislation similar to Paul’s 13-hour talkfest on drones that was the talk of Washington. Meanwhile, an arsenal was found at the home of Adam Lanza, the alleged Newtown, Connecticut, killer, NPR reports (via WBUR).

U.S. News & World Report takes a look back at the Supreme Court’s last major ruling on marriage, the 1967 decision dealing with interracial marriage.

Kevin Peterson, writing in CommonWealth, says the Voting Rights Act debate misses larger civic opportunities.

Nevada takes up legislation that would legalize betting on federal elections, Politico reports.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, who heads the House financial services committee, wants to end federal involvement in everything from mortgages to flood insurance.

ELECTIONS

The Republican US Senate candidates go at it for the second time in two days, this time with state Rep. Dan Winslow and former US attorney Michael Sullivan mixing it up a bit. Winslow shows his humor when the moderator refers to him as Mr. Winthrop.

The Herald runs down the massive field of candidates maneuvering to replace Mayor Menino at Boston City Hall; the tabloid counts at least six city councilors, three state legislators, and a few others among the would-be candidates. The paper compares the current scramble to the wide-open 1983 race to succeed Kevin White. Peter Gelzinis says ambitious pols are already courting neighborhood power players, adding that Menino’s chief leg-breaker, Michael Kineavy, is suddenly in high demand. Joe Battenfeld argues the city needs a candidate cast in the Michael Bloomberg mold.

Liz Cheney tells Republicans their 2012 drubbing is no reason to tack to the left.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Lobster prices in the region have shot up in recent weeks to an average of $4 a pound higher than this time last year with some places charging as much as $20 a pound.

A survey of the nation’s 192 largest foundations by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required) finds that very few of the groups will be giving out more money this year than in previous years.

EDUCATION

The Brockton School Committee voted unanimously to hire the director of the district’s community schools program to become the city’s first female superintendent.

UMass Lowell formally launches its new Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Studies & Culture, the Sun reports.

UMass Dartmouth has notified New Bedford’s Ocean Explorium that the school will withdraw its one-third share of funding for the science education center’s annual $1 million budget.

HEALTH CARE

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York refuses to stock an expensive new drug, NPR reports (via WBUR).

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Texas lab will investigate corroding concrete at the Seabrook nuclear power plant.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Bristol District Attorney has declined to seek charges in the disappearance of 50 Percocet pills from a storage locker for the property of detainees at New Bedford police headquarters.

The Herald catches William Bulger outside a Pier 4 fundraiser, and somehow manages to get him to talk about his brother Whitey’s time in prison. The former South Boston powerbroker tells the Herald he’s never read much coverage of Whitey’s alleged crime spree, adding that when the two talk, “he makes many protestations about his innocence. I think it’s for him to make the utterances, and not me.”

MEDIA

Boston Magazine writes about the Globe and says we may look back on the Times era as the good old days.

Barbara Walters, 83, is said to be retiring, the Daily Beast reports.

Despite all the optimism on Boston sports pages, Las Vegas oddsmakers give the Red Sox a 33-1 chance of winning the World Series, Time reports.