Tuesday July 2, 2013

BOSTON (AP) -- Legislative leaders on Tuesday swiftly rejected Gov. Deval Patrick's call for a change in a transportation bill that would allow gasoline taxes to increase if tolls are removed from the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The bill, now on the governor's desk, promises $800 million in new annual revenues for transportation within five years. But the administration contends that the legislation fails to account for the estimated $135 million in revenue that would be lost if tolls west of Interstate 95 are eliminated as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2017.

Patrick, at a news conference, said he could not sign the bill in its current form and would return the bill to lawmakers with an amendment to address the loss of toll revenue.

"It simply says that if and when the tolls come down, the gas tax will go up to make up the difference," the governor said of the amendment, adding that he would also be open to other tax or toll options presented by the Legislature.

Yet the governor had not even finished talking to reporters when House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray issued a joint statement saying the amendment would place too high a burden on taxpayers.

"I strongly disagree with the governor's assessment," DeLeo said. "I will not be supporting the amendment nor will I ask any member to support that amendment."

"This threatens working families and businesses still fighting to overcome the financial downturn," the leaders said.


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Patrick said he would not sign the transportation bill into law if lawmakers rejected the amendment or did not come up with a suitable alternative.

The impasse also threatens to hold up the $34 billion state budget for the fiscal year that began Monday. The transportation bill includes $500 million in new taxes that are tied to the spending plan, which has also been sent to the governor's desk by lawmakers.

The transportation bill also seeks to close the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's deficit and head off the need for another round of fare hikes or service cuts.