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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crackup at the toll plaza

There was an ugly crackup on the Mass. Pike tolls yesterday -- the soon-to-be defunct Turnpike Authority board slammed head on into the Massachusetts Legislature. One major casualty -- Gov. Deval Patrick's transportation overhaul plan, whose condition (existence?) is still being determined.

The board voted to raise tolls in two stages, as expected. The Legislature, which is still awaiting a bill spelling out in exact detail what Patrick got around to articulating only last week, was not amused.
“I don’t know where they’re going to get the votes from,” said Sen. Mark C. Montigny (D-New Bedford) of Patrick’s plan. “I wouldn’t even consider a vote for the gas tax right now. I have so little faith that we’ll get the dramatic reforms we need.”
It didn't have have to happen.

In a twisted way the authority board finally did the right thing after years of inaction and ineptitude in its "management" of the Big Dig. Although it is slated to disappear under the plan Patrick keeps promising to file, it had a fiduciary responsibility to protect its bond holders and prevent a default.

They concocted the two-step toll hike -- $2 each at the tunnels on March 29 and July 1 -- to give Patrick and lawmakers time to act on a plan that would eliminate the need for the higher tolls and the board itself.

But the Patrick administration -- despite talking about transportation reform virtually from Day One -- has simply been unable to put anything before lawmakers.

And while it is a recognized fact that legislatures only act when confronted with a crisis, they don't like acting with a gun to their collective head.

Let's see now -- you can choose between an outrageous $4 bump in tolls for a small subset of people who use the Big Dig or a 19-cent a gallon hike in the gas tax. How would you prefer to be executed? Burned at the stake or beheaded?

If that wasn't enough, the Plan To Be Filed Later also includes pennies on the gas tax to bail the MBTA out of the problems it faces (based on the last time the Legislature "reformed" transportation.)

You know, the same MBTA that Auditor Joe DeNucci says wasted $15.4 million because of inadequate planning and oversight of the design of the CharlieCard automated fare collection system.

The same MBTA whose "maintenance" of its escalators and elevators is so shoddy that someone died riding not a bus or subway but an escalator.

They say the darkest hour is just before dawn. Things are looking awfully dark right now for Massachusetts commuters weary of low quality, high cost transportation options.

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Blogger Ron Newman said...

Wouldn't it be a better idea for the Turnpike Authority to leave the tolls where they are now and go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would reduce its obligation to bondholders? This could be done before it is merged into the state government.

February 25, 2009 9:58 AM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Thnaks Ron. I'm not a financial wizard (I only pretend to be one) but I suspect that declaring Chapter 11 would have some pretty nasty ramifications on credit ratings.

And ultimately I believe the state's "full faith and credit" is what backs the bonds -- so it would be the states credit rating that gets whacked. That in turn runs up borrowing costs, which runs up the budget... you get the idea.

February 26, 2009 5:10 AM  

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