Gov. Deval Patrick settled Friday on a gasoline tax increase as the most appropriate way to set the state's transportation system on a long-term course of sustainability.
Top aides said the governor would announce during a news conference at the state Transportation Building that the tax hike would eliminate the need for a proposed doubling of Massachusetts Turnpike tolls slated to take effect this spring.
More broadly, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the formal announcement, Patrick believes the tax increase will allow the state to finally address $5 billion of lingering debt at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and $2.2 billion in debt at the Turnpike.
The governor said earlier this week that he would not seek a tax increase without getting legislative support for overhauling the state's transportation bureaucracy. Such reforms — including abolishing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, round out his plan.
The Associated Press, quoting a draft of the plan last week, said the Patrick was considering streamlining operations into Highway, Rail and Transit, Aviation and Ports, and Registry of Motor Vehicles divisions. The AP also reported Patrick was considering a 27-cent gas tax increase, which would leave Massachusetts with the nation's highest rate at 50.5 cents per gallon.
The aides would not divulge the size of the tax increase the governor has settled upon, saying it would be announced at the news conference, scheduled for 1 p.m.
The Transportation Building site is a symbolic one. It not only is the Turnpike's headquarters, but it also is home to the T and the Executive Office of Transportation. The draft plan called for eliminating divisions between agencies and pooling their resources where possible.
Patrick told a Chamber of Commerce audience this week that resolving the state's problems long-term would require either a toll increase or a gas tax hike. A show of hands among the 600 at the speech revealed widespread support for the gas tax hike as the most equitable means for spreading transportation costs.
The governor also said he was considering Registry fee changes to promote drivership of fuel-efficient vehicles, as well as a "Vehicle Miles Traveled" system to eventually replace the gas tax.
Under such systems, one of which has already been tested in Oregon, drivers are charged precisely for the miles they drive - regardless of the fuel efficiency of their vehicle. It allows a state to continue raising the money for road and bridge repairs while efficiency reduces the demand for gasoline.
Concerns such a system could allow "Big Brother" tracking of vehicle movements were addressed in Oregon by using a passive - rather than active - GPS device to measure mileage. It could only tell when miles were incurred within the Oregon borders, not the specific roads on which they were traveled.
The bulk of the Pike's $2.2 billion is from the Big Dig, while the MBTA's $5 billion debt is from long-term costs. A panel also said state roads and bridges will need $20 billion in repairs during the next 20 years.
This program aired on February 20, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.