Regional approach wrong road to take

Secretary of transportation takes issue with MassINC report

I appreciate MassINC’s attention to the transportation issues currently facing Massachusetts. The think tank’s report, Next Stop, Massachusetts. Strategies to Build the Bay State’s Transportation Future and Keep our Economy Moving, focused on ways to improve the financing of transportation improvements.  The report tried to tackle some of the thorny problems that states across the country are facing. There were, however, several points that were made in the article on which I would like to offer comment.

First, it is not accurate to write  that transportation reform is a “bureaucratic reshuffling.”  Transportation reform is not, and has never been, about moving the boxes on an organization chart.  Those watching closely know that, under Gov. Deval Patrick’s leadership and with the full support of the Legislature, we are engaged in a cost-cutting, efficiency-finding, and culture-changing exercise not seen in the Commonwealth in over 40 years. 

Secondly, the article rightly notes that financing techniques can be helpful to addressing our issues, but makes the mistake of inferring that financing is revenue. It is not. These methods can be helpful to assist in accessing the capital markets or, in some cases, cash flow issues, but often result in years of debt payments that might not necessarily be there otherwise. The public always has to pay for the financing techniques – too often, it pays too much. 

Lastly, the authors champion a regional revenue raising plan.  The need for regional cooperation is exactly correct.  However, Massachusetts is one state, and suffers from a belief by many that transportation funds are not distributed in a regionally-equitable manner.  That’s why Gov. Patrick has insisted on statewide investment, and why the Legislature included several provisions in the reform law requiring investments aimed at spreading out our investment. More importantly, to move to a regional financing plan would violate a fundamental principle of reform – that we must finance our transportation system in a way that mirrors how we govern it.  For the first time ever, we have one board governing our entire statewide surface transportation system. Regional financing would be a huge blow to that significant achievement and would further exacerbate rivalries and perceived biases.

Meet the Author
The Patrick-Murray Administration is fully committed to reforming our transportation system, and is well on its way to doing so.  Departure from the cost-cutting, efficiency-finding, and culture-changing approach we have taken would be a large setback for anyone who cares about the system.

Jeffrey Mullan is the Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation.