State House Roundup: T Time
And for his next trick, Richard Davey, the fresh-faced frontman of the Massachusetts transportation system, will wriggle out of a straitjacket while suspended upside-down from the Longfellow Bridge.
Of course, if that were true, it would be a fitting end to a week in which Davey – fond of declaring that the state’s transportation bureaucracy has “no more rabbits” to pull from its budget-balancing hat – revealed he had been holding the Easter Bunny captive in an MBTA broom closet.
Because three months after the MBTA whipped riders into a frenzy over the prospect of bone-deep service cuts and astronomical fare hikes, Davey revealed with Houdini-like confidence that, all along, the state has a Motor Vehicle Inspection Trust Fund with a $51 million surplus just sitting there.
Fare hikes still appear to be in the offing to help the T fill a $159 million budget hole next year, but the proposal to grab that trust fund surplus to partially close the gap may portend additional legislative magic tricks to spare riders from vanishing bus routes or levitating transit costs.
The T’s latest plan, a 23 percent fare hike and modest service reductions, won Gov. Deval Patrick’s endorsement Wednesday as a prudent measure that asks less of riders than two draconian measures proposed by the MBTA in January – apparently a clever expectations-management move that made the 23 percent hike and smaller service cuts seem, to some at least, like an express ride on the Red Line.
In addition, Patrick used the announcement to remind residents that his proposed $500-million-a-year gas tax hike was shot down in 2009 – and might seem like a pittance compared to the financial restructuring and tax hikes that could be on the docket once lawmakers are safely ensconced in a non-election year.
“We have a broken transportation system. It was broken when we inherited it five years ago, it was disorganized, mismanaged and inefficient in many respects,” Patrick said during a press conference outside his capitol office, adding, “The system remains underfunded. I think everyone knows that.”
In a week when the ancient robed justices of the U.S. Supreme Court threatened to gut the federal health care law (and potentially President Obama’s reelection chances), and when the hooded sweatshirt became a symbol of anti-racial profiling solidarity, it was masked marauders in spandex who caused the biggest stir in the Bay State.
A day before the MBTA revealed its budget-balancing solution, a horde of rowdy anti-fare-hike, anti-service-cut protesters, led by a band of costumed crusaders, commandeered a meeting of the agency’s audit and finance committee, prompting officials to shut it down in less than 10 minutes. T officials said they allowed the protest to shut down the meeting in the name of free speech, never mind that those interested in potential solutions to the T’s woes never got to hear what the committee might have recommended.
No word yet on whether the protesters plan to overtake the T boardroom next week, when the board is slated to ratify the fare hike. Or whether outgoing Sen. Steven Baddour plans to join them.
Baddour, a member of Senate President Therese Murray’s inner circle, set Beacon Hill abuzz Monday when he told supporters he planned to leave his post for a high-profile law firm. Often razzed by his colleagues for occasional right-leaning proclivities and an impeccable – nay, unshakeable – shock of black hair, Baddour left to fawning applause from his colleagues, hailed as the vestige of a diminishing flock of politicians willing to reach across the aisle, and an even smaller flock willing to talk about it on camera.
Patrick’s remarks to a hungry press corps in the aftermath of the T’s announcement Wednesday lasted 12 minutes, and he made passing remarks on U.S. Supreme Court proceedings that appeared to tilt against the constitutionality of a federal mandate for Americans to purchase health insurance. He also called on lawmakers to pass anti-profiling legislation as a tribute to Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen shot to death by a volunteer neighborhood watchman who thought the hoodie-wearing youth was suspicious. (Patrick went further the next day, indicting the handling of the incident by Florida law enforcement, who have been roundly panned around the country for allowing the shooter to go free without charge.)
Although he held court with reporters outside his office — cramming dozens of scribes and cameramen into a tiny foyer while a spacious media room remained vacant two floors below – Patrick was eager to play softball with former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who airs a little-known left-leaning show on Current TV. On her show, Patrick spoke fluently on the U.S. Supreme Court health care hearings and mounted a defense of the Massachusetts health care system. He also said that if the high court strikes down the core of the federal law, President Obama will make a second effort at it – presuming he wins reelection this year.
The General Court busied itself this week passing a perfunctory bill to send infrastructure aid to cities and towns (the House) and a beginning debate on a bill aimed at pumping up renewable energy generation by Massachusetts businesses (the Senate).
STORY OF THE WEEK: Transit, taxes and Trayvon.
A ROLL CALL, GOVERNOR: A note of caution to Gov. Patrick, who betrayed a glaring gap in his awareness of the Massachusetts legislative process this week: If you’re consistently on the road selling President Obama and hawking books, fighting claims by a pesky Republican Party accusing you of losing focus on Massachusetts, bone up on the basics of legislative procedure. During a press conference with reporters outside his State House office, Patrick grew perplexed when a bellowing voice boomed from across the hall by the House Chamber. “Do you know what’s going on down there?” Patrick asked, turning to reporters in the front row. What was going on, of course, was the roaring call of a House court officer to alert state representatives that a roll call vote was in progress – perhaps arcane to a newbie, but a staple of life under the dome for years.
This program aired on March 30, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.