Patrick threatens veto of transportation bill

Says state needs contingency in case tolls come down

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK for the first time on Thursday promised to veto the Legislature’s transportation financing plan if it is not amended to replace toll revenues that could disappear in four years.

Patrick, who appeared on WGBH radio for his monthly call-in show with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, offered sharp criticism of the House and Senate’s handling of the transportation financing issue, but suggested the feud with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray is about policy and is not personal.

The governor said he spoke with DeLeo on Thursday morning, and disputed reports that he has not been working with Democratic leaders or rank-and-file members of the House and Senate to try to reach a compromise on long-term funding for transportation and public transit, as well as other budgetary priorities.

“This is a policy difference. It’s not a personal one. As I said to the speaker this morning and he acknowledged, I’m going to do what I have to do. He’s going to do what he has to do. I hope we land in a place with a better transportation bill than we have right now. That is a big heavy lift because the leadership is so dug in. I’m under no illusions about that,” Patrick said.

Patrick went on to eliminate the possibility that he might allow the bill to become law without his signature to avoid an override vote in the House and Senate. “I’m going to veto that bill if it comes back to me in its current form, and we’ll then go from there,” he said.

Locked in this stalemate, lawmakers wrapped up sessions for the week on Thursday without any resolution to the budget and tax issues two weeks into the new fiscal year.

Democratic legislative leaders and Patrick have often touted their spirit of cooperation as a key underpinning of their work on fiscal issues and the state’s high bond rating, but the gap between Patrick and legislative leaders over spending has complicated resolution on the $34 billion fiscal 2014 budget, already two weeks late. Patrick has until Friday to act on the budget, but has suggested he won’t sign it.

DeLeo and Murray have scheduled formal sessions next Wednesday and Thursday to reject Patrick’s transportation amendment that would replace any lost toll revenue from the Turnpike after 2016 with a gas tax increase of at least 3 cents to cover the difference. Both Democrats say there is no appetite among their members to support additional tax increases beyond the $500 million already approved, and have expressed confidence both branches have the votes to override.

[The tolls on the Turnpike from Route 128 to the New York border could come down in 2017 if bonds covering that stretch of road are paid off and transportation officials certify that the Turnpike is in a state of good repair. Officials in the Legislature tell CommonWealth that they see no need to take another tax vote now since it is unlikely transportation officials in 2017 will say the Turnpike will remain in good repair without toll revenues.]

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
[The officials in the Legislature also say they are mystified about Patrick’s relatively sudden concern about toll revenues. They said they suspect he is worried that his successor, particularly if he or she is a Republican, might let the tolls come down and is trying to guard against that.]

After spending a year working at the Legislature’s request to identify the need for new transportation investments, the governor said he was disappointed that House and Senate leaders moved so quickly to advance a spending package that fell short of the $1 billion in new revenues he requested for transportation.

“There were no hearings on it. They announced it one day, voted on it the next. That to me is not, as they say, the way to run a railroad,” Patrick said, echoing calls made by House Republicans at the time in March for a public hearing on the Legislative tax plan.