Patrick pitches spending, punts funding decision
Gov lays out ambitious transportation agenda
The last time Gov. Deval Patrick tried fixing the state’s transportation system, he pitched a 19-cent hike in the gas tax, the Legislature balked, and that was as far as it went. Patrick is now three years, three transportation secretaries, and one bruising round of MBTA cuts removed from the disastrous gas tax episode. Monday, as he unveiled an ambitious 10-year, $13 billion transportation agenda, Patrick showed that he’s far more prepared for the political scrum that follows these types of proposals than he was three years ago.
Patrick’s Monday pitch had been billed as a transportation finance fix. It wasn’t. Instead, the governor and his transportation secretary, Richard Davey, released a lengthy list of projects they’d like to tackle. They ran through a laundry list of long-delayed transportation projects — highway interchanges, bridge repairs, subway car purchases, and rail service from Pittsfield to New York and Boston to Medford, Pittsfield, Springfield, Fall River, and New Bedford — and said they could tackle it all, and more, if they only had another $1 billion in annual revenue. Patrick took what was supposed to be a revenue prescription and turned it into a sales pitch for new transportation spending. And he left the question of where that $1 billion per year should come from for another day.
Hard-nosed politicking surrounded both what Patrick proposed on Monday, and how he plans on sending it to the Legislature. Patrick’s ill-fated gas tax plan led with a bid for $600 million annually in new taxes; the governor’s aides only tried to justify the request after they’d made it. On Monday, Patrick put a spending plan on the table, put a price tag on it, but deferred discussion of how to fund it for a few days — until the advocates with an interest in the plan’s laundry list of projects have had sufficient time to gush about its merits.
The single, round number attached to Patrick’s proposed $13 billion bond also shows the governor has learned from recent efforts at stabilizing the MBTA’s shaky finances. The failed gas tax increase was a collection of little tax hikes aimed at many different users — a few cents per gallon for the T, a couple cents for the regional transit authorities, a few for commuter rail, and the rest for highways. Those types of formulas are highly susceptible to being carved up and redistributed during legislative debate. This latest plan staves that off, and leaves the governor’s office with great leeway in directing transportation spending. However the Legislature cobbles together the new bond revenues, those revenues would form a single payment stream, supporting a single appropriation.