The Governor Files a Transportation Bill

Governor Deval Patrick, under some political heat on transportation, yesterday finally filed his long awaited transportation bill. The text of his letter to the Legislature is below. The Mass Pike yesterday passed phase one of the prospective toll increases, with action by the Legislature on a gas tax increase required by March 29 to avert the increase in tolls. The political impetus now moves back to the Legislature. Secretary Aloisi ratcheted pressure up by saying that the Legislature passed a bill in one day after the fatal accident caused by cement falling from a big dig tunnel onto a motorist. Will the Governor get a bill out of the legislature in time to avert a toll increase? Will the bill give him a 19 cent gas tax increase, or something less than that? The entire text of the Governor’s bill is attached below.

February 24, 2009

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives:

II am filing for your consideration the attached legislative proposal, entitled, “An Act to Reform, Rebuild, and Renew the Transportation System of the Commonwealth for the Twenty-First Century.”

Our current transportation system is in disarray. It suffers from a hodgepodge of six different public and quasi-public bureaucracies, overseen by a variety of different boards, which are not directly accountable to the people. The Turnpike Authority and the MBTA have been saddled with over $4 billion in Big Dig-related debt, putting those entities in financial peril, causing tremendous toll and fare pressure, and constraining our ability to make investments elsewhere. The RTAs remain chronically underfunded and road and bridge repairs are needed in every corner of the Commonwealth. The lack of sustainable funding for all of these needs, moreover, is threatening our long-term economic security.

The non-partisan Transportation Finance Commission has concluded that, if we continue down the same path, we would underfund our roads, bridges, and rails by $15 to $19 billion over the next 20 years. The Commission stated that “the real cost of this neglect will be felt in our regional economy and in our way of life.” “Business as usual,” they wrote, “will not suffice.” It is high time that we address the challenges brought on by decades of neglect and willful blindness.

A safe, efficient, and cost-effective transportation system is critical to building a strong Commonwealth. To get there from where we are today, we will need both comprehensive reform and a new infusion of revenue. This bill addresses both needs.

First, the bill creates a consolidated, simplified Massachusetts Department of Transportation (“MassDOT”), under the authority of the Secretary of Transportation, with four divisions: Highway, Rail and Transit, Aviation and Port, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. The bill abolishes the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, and the Outdoor Advertising Board, and replaces the board at the MBTA. This simplification will eliminate redundancy, streamline operations, reduce personnel by about 300, increase efficiency, and save money, which will be plowed back into deferred maintenance.

Second, the bill includes a number of reforms designed to cut costs, improve efficiency, and restore a measure of the public’s confidence. These include moving all transportation employees, including those at the MBTA and at the Turnpike, to the same group insurance plans as other public employees, and aligning the MBTA pension system with the state pension system. The “23 years and out” rule, for example, where MBTA employees start receiving a full pension after 23 years of service regardless of age, must come to an end.

The bill also creates a new dedicated Transportation Fund that will be used to finance, maintain, repair, and expand our transportation network. The bill follows the lead of the Senate and authorizes public-private partnerships, particularly with respect to non-core assets where the proceeds can help us pay for our transportation needs, including paying down debt. The bill facilitates moving MassHighway employees off the capital budget and back onto the regular payroll, generating even more long-term savings. And the bill will begin to restore the public’s trust in the integrity of their government, by creating an Office of Performance Management and a Private Project Ombudsman to improve transparency and accountability.

The bill is also environmentally responsible. It includes new “buy green” and “build green” requirements and authorizes a new green car sliding scale for vehicle registrations. It also calls for the creation of a Healthy Transportation Compact to strengthen our focus on, and relationship to, health and transportation.

Reforms are vital and therefore central to the bill. But as the Transportation Finance Commission demonstrated, we cannot secure our economic future and the public’s safety on the roads, rails, and bridges with reforms alone. Accordingly, this bill includes a 19-cent increase in the gas tax, adjusted for inflation annually beginning in 2011. By restricting the use of gas tax revenues to transportation purposes, as this bill does, taxpayers will be assured that their money is dedicated exclusively to transportation projects. Finally, and importantly, the bill establishes regional equity requirements to ensure that communities all across the Commonwealth benefit from the proposed new revenues, whereby a proportional amount of resources will be expended on road and bridge projects in each region of the state.

I urge your prompt and favorable action on the bill. Secretary Aloisi and I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions, and look forward to tackling this complex challenge together.

Respectfully submitted,
Deval Patrick


This entry was posted in State News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Governor Files a Transportation Bill

  1. Jules Gordon says:

    Your Honor,

    As I watch this shell game that Deval Patrick is playing, I wonder when our good buddy, Senator Baddour, has stashed his bill with “reform before revenue”.

    My bet: we end up with gas tax and tolls.



  2. Fred Mertz says:

    I went over to the Senator’s blog to see what was going on and to post a few questions, but found that he seems to be a bit less responsive than our Mayor. Someone should remind him that if he starts down the blog path, then he needs to spend some time maintaining the conversation and add more than sound bites. The natives look restless.

    As far as I can tell, Jules will be right. We’ll save money with the reforms and staff reductions, but tolls will remain inside 128 and all the bridges and tunnels. And there will be a gas tax increase. I asked the Senator to estimate the amount of increase based on his bill to compare against the Governor’s. I’m sure those kind of numbers should soon end up in the news, though.

    From what little I can tell, Aloisi seems committed to testing this vehicle chip idea, and new toll technology investigation is a part of the Patrick bill. Time to start looking at property in NH …

    If it were me, I’d try and eliminate all toll collection to save paying collectors (salary, medical, and pension) and all the associated infrastructure, and use the income and gas taxes to fund what we need. How many more collection systems do we need to invent?

    Then I would go back to the Federal government to see if some of that porky goodness we as MA taxpayers generally pay out to Red states might not be used to help us more with the Dig Debt: our bridge actually goes somewhere.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s