As a member of the Mount Washington Board of Selectmen and as a longtime volunteer on transportation planning committees in our community, I am writing to ask my fellow Berkshire County residents to contact our legislators on a very important issue: transportation.
The Legislature is now putting the final touches on a bill that will determine the future of our region as much as anything they have voted in recent years. A conference committee of six state senators and state representatives is working to reconcile similar bills just passed by the House and Senate. Following are my concerns, which I hope readers share and will act upon.
Transportation infrastructure has been neglected for years, and, as costs have increased federal and state sources of funding have declined. The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission in its 2007 report found that the current funding mechanism was "Unsustainable." Our communities are forced to fight with each other over federal funds which are barely adequate to fund even one project a year in Berkshire County. Furthermore, the property taxes we pay cannot begin to address local needs and are certainly not enough for major reconstruction of the aging roads and bridges we all depend on. We need a better plan.
Governor Patrick has put forth an ambitious proposal which will put $13 billion into transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years, using broad-based revenue from a very modest income tax hike coupled with reductions in the sales tax and a number of changes in the tax code to eliminate loopholes. This solution provides regional equity and contains incentives for areas like the Berkshires which depend on tourism and cross border sales. Although the Legislature recognizes the transportation funding problem, it seems to have lost a sense of the magnitude of the problem and has decided to fund a smaller proposal essentially by raising the gas tax, adding a new tax on software and increasing fares and tolls
This plan is not only inadequate, but disproportionately affects the Berkshires, where people have very little choice but to drive their cars, and the idea of reducing the sales tax seems to have disappeared completely.
Regardless of how you may feel about the various revenue plans on the table, it is obvious that we need to fix our decaying infrastructure, and that we need to pay for it. And any solution that is adopted must take into account the concerns of the western part of the state to be successful. We cannot support any plan that just sends our money to Boston without having a fair share returned to our communities.
Our legislative delegation has been active and vocal on our behalf, however we need to contact them to let them know we care and we need to contact the leaders, Speaker DeLeo 617-722-2500, and Senate President Therese Murray, 617-722-1500 and ask them to encourage their fellow legislators to do right by the Berkshires. JIM LOVEJOY