Gov. Deval Patrick's threat Thursday that he would veto a $500 million transportation plan proposed by legislative leaders if it gets to his desk is entirely justified. The timid response to the governor's ambitious transportation plan amounts to more kicking of cans down the road, which is what got Massachusetts in its current predicament in the first place.
Inadequate roads and a primitive rail system are a nationwide problem, one that is an embarrassment for the United States on the international stage. That won't change soon given obstructionist tactics by the minority party, but it could change in Massachusetts. The governor's plan attacks transportation problems aggressively, and while no one expects the Legislature to rubber-stamp the plan, a serious response is required. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray and other Democratic leaders fell well short on Tuesday.
The legislative plan would provide about half of the funding the governor offers, and is not up to the standards of a more realistic compromise plan offered in March by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. The leadership attempts to address the funding problems of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, that Boston-based sinkhole, and fills in some funding cracks elsewhere, but it lacks the funding mechanisms and ambition to make long-term changes. For the Berkshires, that means bridge and road repairs, Chapter 90 funding that is timely and adequate, and major strides in passenger rail service. The 3-cent gas tax increase is a worthy proposal, but without the governor's income tax hike (balanced by a reduction in the sales tax), the legislative plan doesn't provide adequate revenue.
There have been five successive years of either cuts or the status quo in the transportation budget -- and it shows. Road and bridge work that is postponed for far too many years becomes increasing expensive to undertake, which provides more excuses for Beacon Hill to do nothing. Governor Patrick is trying to break this vicious circle while bringing the state a little closer to the 21st century in terms of rail service. The Legislature must pitch in, which means going back to the drawing board for a transportation plan.