Saturday, February 28
PITTSFIELD — James A. Aloisi, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, visited the area Friday to underscore the urgency of establishing a proposed gas tax increase to stave off dire consequences stemming from massive budget shortfalls.

Aloisi met with local officials to push Gov. Deval L. Patrick's proposed 19-cent gas tax increase, and while he understood the concern of residents in western Massachusetts about the proportion of funds going east, he said the tax increase is in the best interest of the state as a whole.

"I know people are concerned about the gas tax and seeing the money go east," Aloisi said in a meeting with the Eagle editorial board. "So part of my job is to say I'm here and we're all part of one state."

Aloisi said the tax would bring equity to the each of the state's regions, with 1.5 cents of the tax going to Regional Transit Authorities and 1.5 cents to targeted regional road projects. He said is important the tax increase not pass for a lower amount, as regional funding would likely be eliminated along with funding toward future projects in the area.

"If anything is going to happen, it's because those cents are there," Aloisi said.

He also spoke about the need to streamline and reform the state's transportation departments. He said the Turnpike Authority — which is $2.2 million in debt — will be abolished, and reforms have to come to other departments through eliminating positions, standardizing employee health benefits and shifting payroll practices.

"People have to understand, everyone is going to have to give something for the larger good," Aloisi said.

Five weeks into the job, Aloisi is still amazed by the size of the problem and bureaucratic issues in the departments.

"I'm astonished by the gravity of the problem. The fiscal problem is jaw dropping and the sense of entitlement and coziness in all these bureaucracies I'm trying to bust up is jaw dropping," said Aloisi.

He said if the gas tax increase does not pass, he will be forced to start cutting back on services across the state as early as July to make up for budget shortfalls.

Some Berkshire legislators are looking at revenue increases that would be less costly to local residents that rely on driving.

Rep. Denis Guyer, D-Dalton, supports reinstituting some western toll on the Turnpike and can't understand why the state hasn't looked more seriously at tolling New Hampshire residents who commute to Massachusetts everyday before raising taxes on its own residents.

"Members of the House first look out for their constituents. That's what we do," said Guyer. "I'm displeased that in the two meetings I went to (Wednesday) I could not get a straight answer on border tolls."

Aloisi said he believes members of the Berkshire delegation will vote for the measure, which he hopes will pass in March.

Aloisi met with the Berkshire delegation and the mayors of Pittsfield and North Adams earlier in the day to discuss their concerns, as well as improvements planned for local roads and highways.

Aloisi called Pittsfield Mayor James M. Roberto a "visionary" for his downtown improvement plan, and agreed to secure funds for repairs to the Hadley Overpass in North Adams as well.

Matt Murphy contributed to this article.

To reach Trevor Jones: tjones@berkshireeagle.com. or (413) 528-3660