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Governor Deval Patrick says he has a plan to help Massachusetts stay competitive in anxious economic times.
In a speech yesterday, the governor called for more commercial development in prime areas around the Commonwealth. He wants the state to pay $20million to buy foreclosed properties and hand them over to non-profit developers.
Patrick is also calling for a major financing plan to speed up costly bridge repairs. WBUR's Curt Nickisch reports on reaction to the proposal.
Audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site later today.
TEXT OF STORY:
CURT NICKISCH: The governor gave his speech at MIT's Sloan School of Management, which is just a stone's throw away from the Longfellow Bridge linking Cambridge and Boston. Or maybe you could say a crumbled chunk of cement's throw away. Because that bridge and hundreds of others across the state are overdue for an overhaul. Governor Patrick says at the current pace of construction, the list is only getting longer.
GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: There is a better, smarter financing plan, that enables us to start that work now. And by acting now, we can cut that deficient bridges backlog in half in eight years, and create thousands of jobs.
NICKISCH: Patrick's proposal would borrow against future transportation funding. State finance official Jay Gonzalez says because of inflation, frontloading federal dollars from the next twenty years by spending them over the next eight years gives the state more bang for those bucks.
JAY GONZALEZ: Ultimately what it's going to mean by accelerating these projects and doing them quicker than we otherwise would, is at the end of this twenty year period we would have one-point-eight billion dollars more to invest in more transportation infrastructure projects.
NICKISCH: Part of how Gonzalez figures those savings comes from another piece of the proposal. Under it, the state would pay off some of its current debt more slowly. That would free up more cash for bridge repairs.
Overall the plan is getting reasonable reviews from economic and legislative leaders. After all, no one disputes the bridge work needs to be done. Still some are concerned the state is limiting its ability to borrow down the road by taking on more debt now. Alan MacDonald runs the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and says the state could raise taxes or fees to not have to borrow as much.
ALAN MACDONALD: The projects that we're talking about will benefit people for generations to come, so it is fair to be doing this in a bonding way. But it's also to know that the people of today are going to benefit, and that we do need to pay as we go with those projects.
NICKISCH: Others question where the money is to maintain those bridges once they're repaired. Recently, a public policy group did a case study on the Longfellow Bridge. The Pioneer Institute recommended the state set aside maintenance dollars after major repairs. The governor's proposal does not do that.
But Steve Silvera says first things first. He headed the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission which raised the alarm about the state's looming infrastructure needs. He praises the governor for addressing a major need: bridge repairs. Maintenance, he hopes, will follow.
STEVE SILVERA: We can get to the same place by saying, okay, from this day forward, do the maintenance we need to do on a regular basis with the cash we have.
NICKISCH (on phone): And that's realistic even?
SILVERA: I remain ever hopeful that people will do the responsible thing.
NICKISCH: Not everyone is so trusting. Barbara Anderson heads Citizens for Limited Taxation.
BARBARA ANDERSON: Our government didn't do its one basic number one priority job over many years, and probably decades, and now it wants to extend our debt, in order to do what it should have been doing all along.
NICKISCH: Anderson wants the state to pay for bridge repairs by cutting spending, not by borrowing. But the early indication is that governor's bonding proposal will move forward, though likely on a smaller scale. House Speaker Sal DiMasi backs the proposal.
SPEAKER SAL DIMASI: These investments need to be made up front, need to be made right away in order for us to get this economy going and create jobs for people, which we're all worried about.
NICKISCH: How soon the state would actually get rolling depends on the Statehouse. The governor says once he gets the bonding authority from lawmakers, work could begin in ninety days.
For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.
This program aired on April 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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