State lawmakers approve transportation funding plan; Patrick threatens veto
State legislators have voted to approve a compromise transportation funding plan that will raise taxes to fund investment in the state’s transportation department, but Governor Deval Patrick said the amount raised by the bill is not enough.
After the house passed the spending plan with a 105-47 vote, Patrick issued a statement saying that the bill will not meet the state’s transportation needs.
“I expect to return this bill with an amendment and look forward to working with the Legislature to enact it,” the statement read.
Less than an hour later, the Senate passed the bill by a 34-6 margin.
The compromise bill, which raises taxes by $504 million in 2015, ramping up to $805 million in 2018, emerged from committee just days before the beginning of the MBTA’s new fiscal year, when the T would be forced to enact harsh service cuts and steep fare increases to balance their budget if a funding plan is not approved.
Senate President Therese Murray said she is proud of the bill, and had expressed optimism that Patrick would sign it. Three months ago, he threatened to veto a smaller transportation finance package that came out of the House, arguing that it did not go far enough to provide new revenue.
“We think it does everything the governor wanted, in a little different way, but it’s comprehensive,” Murray said.
The terms of the updated version of the bill were ironed out over the past two months, but many of the major components remain: The bill raises the gas tax by 3 cents, bringing it up to 24 cents per gallon; and adds $1 to the tax on cigarettes. It also re-routes a little-known 2.5-cent gas tax, currently dedicated to underground storage tank cleanups, to transportation coffers.
The bill also requires the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to pursue potential toll increases in the western part of the state and seek a federal waiver to allow tolls along state borders. Additionally, it orders the MBTA to issue a request for proposals to private companies that may be able to operate late-night service on the T.
“We made efforts to expand the opportunity for more dollars, which I think everybody felt was important,” said Senator Thomas M. McGee, a Lynn Democrat.
Some transportation advocates said the bill is only a partial success.
“We think the bill is a good start, but it still falls short of what we need to address the transportation challenges in Massachusetts,” said Kristina Egan of Transportation for Massachusetts. “It fixes about half the problems ... but everyone, including legislative leadership, agrees it’s not enough funding to really support the economy of tomorrow.”
Rafael Mares, staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, a transportation and environmental advocacy organization, said in a statement that the bill provides an acceptable amount of baseline funding, but would need to be buoyed in coming years with additional investments in transportation to establish long-term change.
“We will need to take up the conversation again within the next couple of years to begin to map out a more comprehensive plan to solve longstanding problems and lay the groundwork for the reliable, affordable, modern transportation system the Commonwealth wants and needs,” Mares said.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.