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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, January 31, 2012

Act II

Boston Mayor Tom Menino has dropped the first shoe in the inevitable move toward a broader solution to MBTApocalypse.

It's been clear since transit officials first announced a Draconian plan of fare hikes and service cuts that they were angling for a higher authority, like the Legislature, to step into the fray. The school of thought no doubt recalls that lawmakers got them into the mess, at least partially, by saddling them with Big Dig debt in 2000.

It was equally obvious the idea of extra money on the sales tax or, heaven forbid, the gasoline tax, would spark outrage outside the MBTA district. But never let it be said Menino lacks for the courage that comes from asking people outside the capital city to pitch in.
“I understand the difficult decisions facing the MBTA. Many administrations have simply passed the buck,’’ Menino wrote to state Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey, copying in the governor, Senate president, House speaker, and Boston lawmakers. “However, riders should not be forced to shoulder the entire weight of this debt.’’
Davey, as he has been throughout this staged drama, was non-committal.
"At this point, [we] are trying to offer solutions that are in our toolbox. Revenues from the state side do not seem to be forthcoming, in large part because there are significant budget pressures on the state as well..."
The audience for this play really numbers just three people: Deval Patrick, Robert DeLeo and Therese Murray. The governor has been on record in the past for a gas tax to help pay not just for the T but the entire, crumbling transportation infrastructure. DeLeo opposed it, opting instead for the 1.25 percent hike in the sales tax. Murray has kept her views largely to herself.

The regular tableau of riders at hearings warning of personal chaos is part of the script designed to open, if not change minds. But the sweeteners must reach beyond the T's service area to convince folks in Charlton and Northampton and Pittsfield that they should care.

That's where the gas tax comes in -- again. There remains a vast backlog of rotten roads and buckling bridges across the commonwealth, projects that were, to be fair, deferred to pay for the Boston Big Dig (financial) boondoggle. They are not receiving the attention they need either.

Because times are still tough, no elected official looking for continued employment -- or certain of his or her prospects -- is going to call for higher taxes. So we see the traditional slow motion dance of presenting a problem, creating angst and building a groundswell for action.

Davey is already telegraphing the final act:
“We do need a broader solution,’’ Davey said. “No doubt about it.’’

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