The Transportation funding disputes continue to fester on Beacon Hill, with the Governor and Senate leadership continuing to squabble, issue statements, issue clarifications to statements, and when all else fails issue statements assigning blame to each other. After the last meeting between the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker, the Governor pointed out the obvious, which is that the $275 million allocated to Transportation will not be enough to forestall system cuts or fare increases at the T and or the Turnpike. From the State House News Service:
The multi-front disagreement between Gov. Deval Patrick and lawmakers over taxes and reforms held course Tuesday, as Patrick downplayed tensions but stuck to rhetoric that has positioned legislators as resistant to change.
Patrick warned that insufficient changes to the state’s transportation, pension and ethics systems would likely lead to massive Turnpike toll increases, because he would not support the Legislature’s sales tax increase, part of which lawmakers intend as a hedge against the tolls’ scheduled climb on July 1.
“If we don’t get the reforms, I’m not going to support the new revenue, and in the absence of the new revenue, then we don’t have a choice but to increase the tolls,” Patrick said.
So Governor Patrick threatens a veto and toll and fare increases. Senate President Murray, in answering a reporters questions, seems to agree that the sales tax funding mechanism is wholly inadequate.
Asked whether the sales tax increase approved by both branches would address a long-term transportation funding deficit, Murray said, “It’s not going to be enough for, really, anything going forward.”
Ah, but that is a major problem, as the Governor, Senate President and Speaker all agreed in March (in a written statement) to fully fund the “long term needs” of Transportation after “reform” had been completed.
With that in mind the revisions need to be started, and quickly. Lets move to revision one, a clarification from the Senate President:
Statement from Senate President Therese Murray
Senate will not support toll hikes
Yesterday, the governor reiterated his threat to raise tolls on the Turnpike by 100 percent starting July 1. The Senate refuses to support any toll increase. The Senate intends to honor its agreement with the Administration, reached in March, to pass significant transportation reform and dedicate revenue for the Turnpike Authority and other transportation agencies to avoid toll increases. This is no time for scare tactics. Transportation reform legislation will be coming out of conference committee before the budget reaches the governor’s desk. Additionally, the Senate has dedicated revenue in its budget for the Turnpike to meet its bond obligations. The public cannot be expected to take on any additional burdens, like a toll increase, when they are already being asked to make significant sacrifices for the greater good of the Commonwealth. For that reason, the Senate rejected increases in the gas tax and the personal income tax. We must work together and stick to our plan to deliver promised reforms before necessary revenues are put in place.
Lets move over now to Governor Patrick, who also wanted to “clarify” earlier remarks. The Globe calls it “dialing back rhetoric”. From today’s Globe.
Governor Deval Patrick has threatened to veto the sales tax increase, but dialed back rhetoric about a possible toll hike yesterday, even as he continued to assert that raising the gas tax would make more sense.
“We’re not going to have a tax increase and the tolls,” Patrick said. “Nobody wants that, I certainly don’t want that.”
It is true that “nobody wants that” but the question remains about who is going to pay to make sure that it does not happen. The Transportation needs of both agencies, this year, total about $275 million. And that is the amount that the Legislature is dedicating to transportation from the prospective sales tax increase. But as todays Globe points out it is highly unlikely that the Legislature will dedicate that entire amount just to those two agencies. What about Western Mass? What about the RTA’s? The sales tax amount does not even come close to full funding, and you can expect a real restructuring over at the T, including large fare hikes and deep service cuts, without additional funding. From the Globe:
Lawmakers have made less of a public commitment to rescuing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority from its $160 million deficit. The MBTA passed a budget earlier this year that presumes there will be a legislative bailout. But an advisory panel, which has the final word on the authority’s budget, is expected to reject that plan at a meeting today. Instead, the MBTA Advisory Board will consider a budget that lays off about 1,200 MBTA employees – putting further pressure on the T to begin publicly planning service cuts and fare hikes.
The numbers plainly do not work. I am fascinated by the propensity of many to make fun of bean counters. Maybe we should pay more attention to them, as voodoo math seems to be the operating system on Beacon Hill these days. Without reform that saves money now you will be back in crisis mode in FY2011. The finance crisis in Transportation is not over, it is just begining.