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Mon January 14, 2013
Video: Patrick's Hard Sell on Transit
The big new transportation plan outlined by Governor Deval Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey today contains plenty of things to get excited about. From brand-new subway cars to self-serve RMV kiosks to a new Springfield-to-Boston train line — and that's just a partial list — the Patrick Administration's proposals contain something for seemingly anyone who routinely needs to get from Point A to Point B in Massachusetts. And that's most of us.
The catch? Well, the aforementioned goodies won't come cheap. Neither will building a new South Shore commuter-rail line, or extending the Green Line to Somerville and Medford, or expanding South Station (still a partial list, by the way). And the Patrick Adminstration doesn't just want to spend a whopping $13 billion to beef up the state's transportation infrastructure. It also wants to close an operational transportation deficit it pegs at nearly $700 million a year, a figure that includes everything from snow and ice removal on the state's highways to interest payments on the MBTA's multi-billion-dollar debt. The state can do it all, Patrick and Davey insisted today. But we'll need more than $1 billion in new revenue to make it happen.
The big question, of course, is where that money would come from. The prospectus distributed by the Department of Transportation today mentioned a bevy of possibilities, from new tolls to a sales-tax hike to a "Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax" of 2.4 cents per mile. Governor Patrick didn't endorse any options today; instead, he hinted that he'd outline his own vision for new revenue at Wednesday's State of the Commonwealth speech. But the governor did make his political strategy for pushing his transportation plan clear. In a nutshell, his strategy seems to be this: cast his administration's ambitious proposals as the morally upright choice — with the implication being that, morally speaking, those who disagree or find fault are falling short.
This seems like a good place to offer some reassurance. The governor's remarks notwithstanding, questioning Patrick and Davey's plans doesn't mean you're a bad person. Maybe you marveled at the ever-spiraling costs of the Big Dig, and suspect that the projects outlined today might grow similarly bloated. Maybe you're a frustrated, toll-paying commuter from the western or northern part of the state, and think you're entitled to some revenue relief before you're asked to pay even more for the privilege of getting to and from work. Or maybe you just think that, as a matter of principle, the state should deal with its existing transportation budget problems before embarking on a multi-billion-dollar upgrade.
These are all legitimate reasons for hesitation. Based on today's presser, though, it's hard to say if the governor is prepared to take them seriously.
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