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


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