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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, March 07, 2013

Middle road

That silence you've been experiencing on Deval Patrick's grand transportation plan is about to be broken.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is throwing cold water Patrick's $1.9 billion plan to raise taxes to fix our transportation and education systems. The biggest fly in the ointment: a 1 percent increase in the state income tax.
“I’m worried that the administration’s proposal places too heavy a burden on working families and businesses struggling to survive,” DeLeo wrote in the text of the speech, to be delivered to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “If we are to pass a new revenue package, I believe it should be far more narrow in scope and of a significantly smaller size.”
The only surprise is that it has taken this long for someone in a leadership role to utter those words.

And while DeLeo promises the House will develop a plan to trims the transportation infrastructure and raises revenues, the address is a sobering response to the MBTA's latest budget plan that, once again, calls for some combination of fare hikes and service cuts to close a budget shortfall of $130 million.

DeLeo rightly points to the high cost of borrowing to pay for the road system, including the idiocy of borrowing money to pay highway department operating expenses.

The biggest question though, is will the Legislature do anything about the strain on the T budget it created when it saddling the bus, subway and commuter rail system with the cost of the bonds used to pay for burying the Central Artery and building the Zakim Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel.

It was a quick fix dreamed up at a time of financial strain and designed to kick the can down the road. But that can is now blocking the train tracks and needs to be removed and allow the MBTA to clean up its own messy house without paying for the sins of the Big Dig.

Whether lawmakers even try to address that issue will be the thing to watch for in any House proposal.

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