The state Senate transportation plan offered last week is definitely an improvement over the House plan that emerged earlier, but that is faint praise. Neither plan is as ambitious as that proposed by Governor Deval Patrick, who is making a bold attempt to address past failures and prevent them from reoccurring.
At $800 million, the Senate proposal roughly splits the difference between the House's $500 million offer, which the governor threatened to veto, and Mr. Patrick's $1 billion transportation plan. It is not entirely clear, however, where all of the revenue is coming from in the Senate plan, while the governor has produced a concrete funding proposal based on an increase in the income tax and a cut in the sales tax. The Senate plan is, as the governor said last week, "a step in the right direction," but it is not there yet.
Governor Patrick adopted a conciliatory approach to the Senate proposal after his earlier harsh criticism of leadership rankled House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray. The truth is, however, that the governor's concerns that leadership was failing to address oft postponed infrastructure problems while also not anticipating future transportation needs were legitimate.
From a Berkshire perspective, we don't want to see any difference between the governor's plan and whatever the House and Senate finally agree upon to be made up by shortchanging this end of the state. Additional funding cannot be provided for the perennially troubled Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority without addressing the legitimate needs of the better-run Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. Rail always gets the short end of the stick, but money should be found for the governor's proposed upgrade of tracks from Pittsfield south in anticipation of passenger service to New York City.
This will not be a quick process -- it never is -- and given this reality we again urge the governor and Legislature to separate out Chapter 90 highway funding from the rest of the transportation bill, as requested by rural highway chiefs, including those in Berkshire communities. Already at the mercy of the weather, they can't continue to be at the mercy of the Beacon Hill timetable when it comes to fixing roads and bridges before the region's brief good weather window closes once again.