House and Senate conferees last night reported out a Transportation Bill, which should be voted on by both branches today. Some of the highlights include forcing MBTA employees into the State health care system (GIC) starting in FY2010, ending the 23 and out retirement system for new employees at the MBTA, abolishing the Massachusetts Turnpike and folding it into a new agency called the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. I will post a bill summary when one becomes available. The Speaker and the Senate President issued a statement praising the bill, and the Senate President issued a thinly disguised barb at the Governor.
In a jab at Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray said in a press release, “Since November, when all we were hearing about was a gas tax, the Senate has insisted that we cannot simply throw new revenue into a broken transportation system … we need to reform the system first.”
In the same release, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “This bill eliminates the antiquated and inefficient transportation structure in Massachusetts. It also brings considerable cost-savings. In a very short time, we have delivered on our promise to reform our transportation and pension systems, and I look forward to further action on ethics reform and the budget soon.”
The Governor, now that the bill is out, will finally get a chance to read it. His intentions are unclear, as his press statement pledged a review.
“We appreciate the movement on this critical piece of the Governor’s reform agenda,” Kyle Sullivan, a Patrick spokesman, said in a statement. “We look forward to analyzing it to determine whether it meets the long-term needs and interests of the Commonwealth. We will have no further comment until we have fully reviewed the conference report.”
The bill has received praise from Michael Widmer as well as from Stephen Silveira, who chaired the Transportation Finance Commission. Both had been sharply critical of the earlier Senate version of reform. The Governor now has a tough choice to make, as this bill contains no additional finance options beyond the $275 million allocated from the sales tax increase. I think he signs it, but I would not bet the house on it. Your move Governor!