Lawmakers were sworn in for another two-year session on Beacon Hill on Wednesday, and leadership in both houses made it clear that transportation and gun control will be top priorities. The former has been back-burnered for too many years, and the latter effort, while welcome, pales in significance compared to the overwhelming need for federal reform.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both spoke of the need for infrastructure improvements in general and transportation improvements in particular on Wednesday. Governor Deval Patrick, who will address the state in two weeks, has said that transportation will be a priority. The state is dealing with an estimated $1 billion-a-year shortfall to maintain the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, regional bus systems and state highways, and the MBTA has long been an eastern black hole swallowing tax dollars.
Mr. DeLeo, who said that "everything and anything is on the table" in terms of generating revenue, said paying for upgrades in the state’s transportation system should not be borne by any one region. We would add that no one region should benefit unduly either, as many roads and bridges in the western end of the state are overdue for repairs and upgrades.
Strengthening the state’s gun laws also appears to be a three-way priority among the governor and the two legislative leaders, with both Speaker DeLeo and President Murray emphasizing the need in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Mr. DeLeo on Wednesday asked Jack McDevitt, an associate dean at Northeastern University, to lead a special commission on gun violence.
Massachusetts already has tough gun laws, but then so does Connecticut. The ease in which weapons can be transported among the states means that firming up the weak and loophole-riddled federal gun laws must be a Washington priority in 2013. While Massachusetts must do everything it can to pass and enforce solid gun laws, those efforts will be undermined if Washington doesn’t do what is right and necessary in the months ahead.