Mass. Lawmakers Begin Debate on Legislative Leaders' Transportation Plan
The transportation funding plan unveiled by Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts state legislature has been met with a mixed response, with Democratic Governor Deval Patrick threatening to veto the plan if certain objectives aren’t met and House Republicans criticizing the plan for raising taxes without making other reforms to government.
And lawmakers in the Berkshires seem to be equally as divided on supporting the plan introduced by House Speaker Robert Deleo and Senate President Therese Murray, both Democrats, last week.
Representative Gail Cariddi of North Adams, who serves on the Joint Committee on Transportation, is supportive of the plan. In particular, she likes how it increases Chapter 90 local aid 50 percent to $300 million for cities and towns to assist in road and bridge repair.
“It’s something that we need, it’s something that has to be done in a more timely fashion, and I’d like to get that done as soon as possible,” said Cariddi.
The governor’s and House Republicans’ proposals also include this increase.
Cariddi was also supportive of the plan’s intent to forward fund the state’s Regional Transit Authorities, also widely identified as a critical component of transportation investment by the Democratic governor and House Republicans…
“We need to get our budgets forward funded, this plan does that. It allows for greater transportation in Berkshire County,” said Cariddi.
Cariddi also supports the plan to resolve long-standing debt and improve service for the MBTA in the greater Boston area.
But the legislative leaders’ plan hinges on a 3-cent raise in the state’s gasoline tax. On a press call Friday, Governor Patrick said that it’s unfair to raise a gas tax on residents of Western Massachusetts because the legislative leaders’ plan does not include some of the major projects outlined in his own budget.
“I’m not hostile to the idea of having a modest gas tax a part of a final package. The problem with this package is that the folks in western Massachusetts will pay that gas tax and see no change or improvement in their service,” said Patrick.
The governor’s 10-year vision includes items missing from the legislative leaders’ plan such as repairing the I-91 viaduct in Springfield and restoring passenger rail from Pittsfield to New York City.
Recently, Democratic State Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield said that he would fight for a way to preserve the governor’s projects for his district.
“Rail from Pittsfield to New York City is a huge priority of mine,” said Downing.
Democratic Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield recently told WAMC that she supports the governor’s plan to raise the income tax to pay for transportation investments over the gas tax.
Rep. Cariddi said that raising the gas tax is not something she accepts wholeheartedly, but she does see it a viable way to fund the projects she considers most important.
Cariddi added that although the legislative leaders’ plan does not include some of the larger projects the governor has outlined, she said by focusing on a five-year plan instead of Patrick’s 10-year budget, the state could save more money in the meantime…
“It doesn’t say that we’re not going to have rail, it doesn’t say that we’re going to have a South Coast project, those things are still on the table for the future,” said Cariddi.