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Gov. Patrick: Let's Deal On Transportation Bill

This article is more than 9 years old.

Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday that he was open to a compromise with state lawmakers on a sweeping transportation finance package, but again suggested that he would use his veto pen if lawmakers were unwilling to pump more revenue into the current bill.

The bill approved by the Massachusetts House late Monday calls for $500 million in new taxes, including hikes in gasoline and cigarette taxes. The measure is supported by Democratic leaders of both branches.

Patrick has proposed $1.9 billion in new taxes, including a hike in the income tax, to fund both transportation and education initiatives.

"I think there's a way to get to a number that is in the middle between where I started and where the House is in their vote and at that level to do something important and long term and do lasting good in transportation and in education," Patrick told reporters Tuesday.

Senate President Therese Murray said there would be some transportation revenue added in the Senate version of the bill, but that it would only come from "existing funds." She dismissed Patrick's call for a compromise on the tax increase.

"Where does it come from? It comes from the income tax?" Murray said, adding that bond rating agencies are very concerned with relying on borrowing and income tax hikes.

"It's not a good way to go," she added.

The Senate leader said she was confident of having the votes to pass the bill when it comes up on Thursday, but was uncertain if there was a two-thirds majority to override Patrick's threatened veto. The House vote of 97-55 on Monday was short of the margin needed to override.

Caught in the tug-of-war on Beacon Hill was the MBTA, which will ask its board of directors on Wednesday to approve a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that was full of question marks.

Beverly Scott, the T's general manager, said Tuesday she was hoping a "Plan C" would emerge from the disagreement between the governor and the Legislature that would offer more long-term investment in public transit.

"What we have right now is a far cry from what is needed," said Scott.

The proposed budget assumes — for the moment — that the state will act to close the MBTA's $118 million operating deficit, but includes contingency plans should a political stalemate ensue.

The T would use nearly $78 million in one-time revenues to help close the gap, including $48 million in federal funds that would be diverted from preventative maintenance and a $13 million surplus from the current fiscal year that would otherwise go toward paying off bonds. Thirty administrative jobs would also go unfilled.

Jonathan Davis, the agency's chief financial officer, said closing the remainder of the deficit would require fare hikes and/or service cuts, as yet unspecified.

But even if the state does eliminate the T's operating deficit, officials said the proposed budget still would offer no service enhancements, such as later hours on weekend nights, or equipment upgrades such as replacing subway trains that date to the 1960s.

Such improvements would be possible under the governor's transportation plan, said Scott, who refrained from criticizing lawmakers.

"I'm not going to sit up and rail against members of the Legislature, I appreciate that it is very, very difficult" she said.

"This isn't the time to be lobbing zingers at folks," Scott added.

Legislative leaders say in addition to closing the T's operating deficit, their plan would gradually end the practice of borrowing money to pay salaries of state transportation employees, and make an extra $100 million available to cities and towns for local road projects.

The Patrick administration says the lawmakers' proposal would not fund capital projects, including the extension of commuter rail to New Bedford, and would put at risk federal funding for the extension of the Green Line to Medford.

This article was originally published on April 09, 2013.


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