Murray to Beacon Hill: No gas tax, at least not yet
The Massachusetts Senate drew a line in the sand today, vowing not to hike anyone's taxes or tolls until a massive consolidation of the state's transportation network is completed or at least well underway.
With Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi waxing Hamletesque about a gas tax increase and toll hikes, Senate President Therese Murray was blunt about her intentions. "We're not going to talk about the gas tax," she said.
She also urged the Turnpike Authority to hold off on its plan to raise tolls and rejected the governor's call for saddling the Massachusetts Port Authority with a big chunk of the Big Dig debt, as well as the administration of the Pike's operations within Route 128.
She called for the creation of the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Authority, which would absorb the operations of the Turnpike, the MBTA, and the Massachusetts Highway Department. It would also take control of all roads and bridges currently managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Tobin Bridge, currently run by Massport.
The new agency would be run by a chief executive and overseen by an 11-person board appointed by the governor. The board would be headed by the governor's Secretary of Transportation. All the revenues of the existing operations would be pooled while expenses and management (accounting, procurement, human resources, legal etc.) would be shared.Murray seemed to undercut her own consolidation argument when she told the gathering of reporters in the Senate Reading Room that "nobody is going to be losing jobs" under the restructuring. But then Sen. Steven Baddour, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, jumped into say that millions of dollars could be saved by cutting redundant jobs and eliminating consultants. He estimated, somewhat vaguely, total savings at $6 billion over 20 years.
Murray acknowledged the consolidation effort will probably not be enough to solve the immediate transportation crisis, but she recited the mantra that reform was necessary before asking taxpayers to pony up any more money for a broken system. Asked if the Senate will ultimately have to support new revenues fior transportation, Murray said: "Most likely we will at the end of the day."