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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, April 03, 2013

Battle joined

Ah spring, when crocuses bloom and the Legislature awakens to propose a tax plan as controversial as the governor's.

The $500 million plan to finance some transportation improvements offered by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray is about a quarter the size of Deval Patrick $1.9 billion opening bid. But it has the potential to raise just as loud a ruckus.

No mention of the income or sales tax changes called for by Patrick. Instead, the legislative leaders call for a 3-cent increase in the gas tax, a hike on cigarette taxes and a series of business tax jumps. Also no acknowledgment of his call to boost spending on education.

If universal condemnation is a sign of hitting the right middle ground, then this plan seems to be smack in the middle.

Transportation advocates bemoan the package as half of what's needed to shore up the MBTA and the highways. And it's notably $300 million short of the benchmark suggested by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

If rhetoric could pay for road repairs or a ride on the T, we'd be set.

New MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott has now jumped right in with some verbiage that may come back to haunt her:
“A billion is a billion, and 500 million is 500 million, and that’s half of what was the original request. Certainly, that has its own consequences — what they will be, God only knows.”
That may have played a role in Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer of Barre hinting MBTA fares (raised 23 percent last year) may be a better source of revenue than gasoline taxes (last raised in the '90s).
“Placing too much of an empha­sis on the gas tax would simply set the stage for another transportation crisis in the years to come.”
That might be a better argument against yet another hike in the cigarette tax, which seems to be the preferred levy of all elected officials.

The GOP, as usual, considers no tax worthy of increase, calling yet again for deeper cuts in the transportation agencies.
“They may be saying, ‘Thanks, Governor,’ because you asked for $2 billion and we look extremely reasonable going for $500 million,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones. “If the people of the commonwealth accept that logic, they should fear for their wallets.”
The lonely band of legislative Republicans promise a list of transportation agency changes in the coming days. (I guess they also enjoyed the legislative hibernation.

This opening package from DeLeo and Murray means there will be new cash coming to transportation projects. The only question is how much -- and from which pocket.

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