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Gov. Patrick: ‘Looking For A Compromise’ On Budget Proposal

BOSTON — There is a standoff among Massachusetts lawmakers over transportation funding, and it is turning into one of the biggest Beacon Hill fights in years.

Gov. Deval Patrick is threatening to veto a plan from lawmakers — one which legislative leaders say is more sensitive to the needs of the middle class.

Some Republican lawmakers say the proposal is being pushed through without enough public input.

Patrick joined Morning Edition to discuss his reaction to the legislative leaders’ plan, which would generate $500 million*, just over a quarter of what the governor says is necessary.

Gov. Deval Patrick: You surely make it sound dramatic. I think it’s a pretty good faith difference — at least, on my part it’s not personal. We just have a difference of opinion. The leadership seems to think it’s better to tax people and have little or nothing to show for it. And I think if we’re going to tax people, we should have something to show for it.

Deborah Becker: They say that their plan, which would raise half a billion dollars for transportation, would raise taxes on gas, tobacco, some business taxes, and they say it would maintain the state’s credit rating at the same time and not harm the middle class as much as yours. Those are pretty pointed criticisms, governor. What do you say to that?

Our credit rating isn’t in jeopardy with this administration that achieved the highest credit rating in the history of the commonwealth. That’s a scare tactic. It comes from nowhere.

I used to have a teacher…who would say when you bring in your homework, “Show your work” — basically, show how you came up with your answers. Well, we’ve shown our work. After a year of work, we showed financial performance, showed project estimates. We had outside experts come in and vet all of that. And it’s been very transparent to the public, so they know what’s in our transportation plan. We don’t get that from the legislative leadership’s plan.

Will you veto this legislative plan if it comes to you in its current form?

“I think the number is somewhere between where the legislative leadership is right now and where I started. And I think that enables us to do meaningful and important modernization in transportation.”
– Gov. Deval Patrick

I will, and I think everybody knows that, and I think the legislative leadership knew that when they proposed it — I’ve told them that in advance. I’m not looking for a standoff here. I’m looking for a compromise and a conversation. I’ve been clear since I first announced the plan that I was open to compromise — both in terms of the total dollar figure and the ways to raise that dollar figure — so long as what we were doing was providing real solutions.

But what this will do is basically enable us to smooth over some of the bad habits from the Big Dig. [With leadership's plan] people are not going to see more modern functioning cars on the Red Line or the replacement of those 30-year-old cars on the Orange Line. They’re not going to see a relief in congestion at the I-95 interchanges in Woburn or Canton. They’re not going to see a rail line to our fourth and fifth largest cities in the commonwealth or the replacement of the main transportation artery out in western Massachusetts on I-91. It’s not going to happen.

So that, to me, it’s not a real solution — it’s a pretend solution. And I hope that we can arrive ultimately at a better place.

Where would you think that there might some room for compromise on your part?

I think the number is somewhere between where the legislative leadership is right now and where I started. And I think that enables us to do meaningful and important modernization in transportation in terms of structurally deficient bridges, road work, modernizing our regional transit authority equipment, our T. It’s a modest expansion project. We have a legal obligation to expand the T to Medford, signed by my predecessor. That’s not funded in the legislative leaders’ plan either.

And I think it also enables us at that number between where they are and where I started to deal with the 30,000 plus 3- and 4-year-olds who are on wait lists for early education. It enables us to do something to make college affordable for people who need those degrees but can’t get them now and will need them in order to function in the new economy.

There’s a lot of room in between $500 million and $1.9 billion.

Sure, there is. And there are a lot of good things that can come in between. But $500 million, everybody’s asked to pay more. And you will see the same old, same old — in some cases — decline.

In terms of your proposal, would you be willing to say maybe put off some of the transportation projects in western Mass. or the South Shore or are there specifics like that you would be able to look at and say maybe we could do that to negotiate and find the middle ground?

“We can’t keep saying that education is our competitive edge and then look away when we’re leaving people behind.”
– Gov. Deval Patrick

Of course, of course. But I think you also have to remember that people outside of the greater Boston area have had their transportation needs postponed for 20 years. That was one of the ways we paid for the Big Dig. And now they’re asked everywhere to contribute more in the form of higher gas prices, higher cigarette prices and higher fees, fares and tolls in order to pay some of those Big Dig bills — not to actually get to the deferred maintenance in their own region. So there has to be some regional equity in this, but even within that context there’s some room for compromise, no doubt about it.

Is including education money in there a deal breaker?

It’s really important. We can’t keep saying that education is our competitive edge and then look away when we’re leaving people behind. And I keep asking them, “Point to the 3- or 4-year-olds you’re choosing to leave behind.” These are choices. We make these choices that have an impact on our growth. What I proposed gives us growth; what the legislative leadership has proposed does not.

Do you think that it might be difficult for folks to consider this completely seriously? A lot of people heard a lot of talk about the sequester budget cuts, and right now folks aren’t really feeling the effects of that. Does that play into this at all?

I don’t know. Look, people are very cynical about government to begin with. Frankly, I think the legislative leadership’s proposal will feed into that.

Correction: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of this post said the legislative leaders’ plan calls for $500 billion in new revenues. It’s $500 million.

House Speaker DeLeo said the legislative leadership’s plan would make substantial progress toward stabilizing the state’s transportation system, while the governor’s plan asks too much of the middle class.

Earlier Coverage:

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