Massachusetts Gov. threatens veto of transportation plan
By Bob Salsberg
The Associated Press
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick derided a $500 million transportation financing plan offered by legislative leaders as a "fiscal shell game," and said he would veto the bill if it reached his desk in its current form.
The governor, who has called for nearly $2 billion in new tax revenues for transportation and education, said the lawmakers' plan would do little to fix the state's aging infrastructure and would force the state to raise taxes and increase transportation fees in the future.
"It's a fiction to claim this bill somehow avoids new taxes," Patrick said at a Statehouse news conference.
The plan outlined earlier this week by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray calls for raising the state's gasoline tax by three cents a gallon and boosting the excise tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack. Patrick had called for raising the state income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, while also lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.
The lawmakers' bill is scheduled for a vote in the House on Monday and Patrick said he would have no choice but to veto it if it comes to him unchanged. But he also acknowledged that he wasn't sure he would have enough votes in either chamber to sustain a veto.
"The leadership's proposal is a return to an old way of doing business. It's the same short-term fiscal shell game that got us the Big Dig and the mess that followed," Patrick said, referring to the massive Boston highway project and the ensuing debt that continues to hamper the state's transportation system.
The governor said the Legislature's plan provided no funding mechanism for the state to make a number of transportation improvements, including an extension of the MBTA's Green Line to Medford and extension of commuter rail to the SouthCoast. He also suggested the plan could hold up $300 million in state funding for local road and bridge projects and prevent the reconstruction of Interstate 91 in western Massachusetts.
Patrick's top budget official, Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor, warned in an internal memo on Wednesday that the lawmakers' plan, if adopted, could lead to $783 million in non-transportation budget cuts, including $362 million in new education initiatives.
DeLeo and Murray did not immediately respond to the governor's comments. They said on Tuesday that a tax increase of the scope sought by the governor could slow Massachusetts' economic recovery and put the state's strong bond rating at risk. Several business groups have also objected to Patrick's proposal to raise income taxes.
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