Mass. Senate Backs More Transportation Funds

Massachusetts Senate leaders scheduled a rare Saturday session to take up a transportation finance bill that was approved by the House earlier in the week but labeled by Gov. Deval Patrick as insufficient to solve the state's long-term transportation needs.

The Senate had originally planned a vote on the bill for Thursday, but leaders postponed that timeline to give members additional time to file proposed amendments to the measure.

By calling for debate on Saturday, lawmakers hoped to finish work on the hotly contested measure before the start of school vacation week in Massachusetts, when some members plan to be away with their families.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a revised version of the bill on Tuesday that would direct approximately $120 million in additional revenue to transportation.

Both the House and Senate call for raising the state's gasoline tax by 3 cents to 24 cents per gallon.

The Senate, however, has also called for dedicating to transportation about $80 million from an existing, but little-known 2.5 cents-per-gallon surtax to transportation needs.

The gasoline surtax that went into effect in 2003 was ostensibly to support the cleanup of underground fuel storage tanks, but much of the revenue has gone to other, non-transportation programs over the past decade.

The revised Senate bill would also require utilities with infrastructure on state highways to enter into right-of-way agreements with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, potentially generating an additional $40 million.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday said they would move to strip all tax increases from the bill and would, among other things, propose an increase in the percentage of revenue from casino licenses that goes to transportation.

Patrick has warned he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk without sufficient revenue to maintain and modernize the state's transportation system and invest in long-term capital improvements, including the extension of commuter rail to New Bedford and expansion of Boston's South Station.

The Legislature rejected Patrick's call for $1.9 billion in new taxes to support transportation and education initiatives.

Also Wednesday, the MBTA's Board of Directors unanimously approved a budget for the transit system that does not call for fare hikes or service cuts, but assumes the state will cover the T's $118 million operating deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1.

If the transportation bill fails, however, MBTA officials say they would likely have to raise fares or reduce services to close the deficit.

This article was originally published on April 10, 2013.

This program aired on April 10, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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