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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beacon Hill to Voters: Trust Us

Legislators will vote today on a massive bill to overhaul the state's transportation system, eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, producing an estimated $6.5 billion in savings over 20 years; end the MBTA's "23-and-out" pension system and bring harmony to the chaos of the state's transportation infrastructure.

Of course, few people who vote on the bill today will have actually read it since it was filed last night just before the deadline for enabling action today. And there is no mention of how much money will be applied to either prevent tolls hikes slated to take place July 1 or the threat of a 20 percent MBTA fare hike.

Those pesky little details will be handled in the FY2010 budget that lawmakers hope to wrap up by the end of this week.

As someone who has spent time covering Beacon Hill and working on it, I can sort of understand lawmakers' penchant to work behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise. The opportunity for political grandstanding is reduced when those negotiations take place away from the hot lights.

But I have a problem with working out conference reports in private then rushing them to the floor for votes less than 24 hours later. Who -- other than the conferees and their staffs -- have any idea of what really is included?

By the time the goodie packages that are inevitably stashed away appear, the bill has become law and some special interest has been served.

And I find it a real stretch to ask people to vote on an overhaul that has serious financial implications from people who drive or take the T (or just about everyone in the state) without knowing exactly how the changes will be financed and what it will mean for individuals trying to get to work without the benefit of per diems that cover their lodging and transportation costs.

It's nice to see lawmakers are actually clearing the decks of business so they can get on with their summer vacations. I just wish I knew the details of what the heck they are doing and what it will cost me and you -- before they do it.

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Blogger Judy Meredith said...

Smart to point out that conference committees should spend the time it takes to make sure the rank and file members understand all the policy and political ramifications of any complex and controversial bill before they are asked to debate it. Is a 2 hour caucus discussing 30 pages of bill text and 50 pages section by section description enough? Followed of course by 5 hours of debate.

Now go and fix the tinyurls in twitter

June 18, 2009 8:50 AM  

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