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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Unleaded balloon

Well, at least Deval Patrick appears to have a transportation reform plan. But the trial balloon launched by the administration may have already snagged in the trees, victim of poor legislative relations.

The big news, of course, is the suggestion the Massachusetts gasoline tax could jump as much as 29 cents a gallon -- a plan that would also allow the administration to eliminate Mass. Pike tolls, pay off the MBTA debt and charge drivers by the miles.

That's actually a somewhat innovative idea, a user fee of sorts, that would encourage fuel efficiency and the use of public transportation.

But despite two years under his belt -- and his epic battles with former House Speaker Sal DiMasi -- Patrick seems to have forgotten Rule No. 1 on Beacon Hill: don't piss off your allies. Seems the governor and his staff failed to inform appropriate House and Senate leaders of the plan before it was leaked.

The reaction was blunt:
"I come from the school where the number one rule is no surprises," said Representative Joseph Wagner, a Democrat from Chicopee who has been the House's top transportation official. "These proposals are surprises. It's not my preferred way of doing business.

"Perhaps it's time for the administration to forward to the Legislature a proposal for reform. Then we won't see piecemeal things going on with tolls and taxes without any substance of proposed legislation."

And on the other side of the Golden Dome -- where Senate leaders have already filed their own plan after endlessly waiting for the Patrick plan -- the response was even sharper:
"We've been very clear: reform before revenue," [Senate President Therese] Murray said in an interview [with the Globe.] "There hasn't been any reform. We filed a 268-page reform, and we expect it to be looked at and enacted before we go to revenue."
And that was from his friends.

Paul O’Connell, executive director of the New England Service Station and Automotive Repair Association, said raising the gas tax by 27 cents would cause a “flight to New Hampshire” by motorists seeking lower prices.

“A lot of our members operate near borders, and this could put them out of business,” he warned. “My gut instinct is that this stinks.”

While I don't buy the idea that hordes of motorists will drive extra miles to New Hampshire to buy gas (unless they stop for booze and butts too), it's obvious the administration and its new pride and joy transportation secretary James Aloisi have failed to do the necessary groundwork before launching a trial balloon.

You'd think they would have had the chance to do that given the fact this plan has a longer gestation period than an elephant.

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