The hasty rejection of Governor Deval Patrick's proposed amendment to the transportation bill by House and Senate leadership indicates an unwillingness to consider certain economic realities. The governor's point about potential transportation budget shortfalls in the years following his departure from office is valid and merits more than a brush-off.
The Legislature has produced a solid bill that calls for $800 million in new annual revenues for transportation within five years to address road and bridge infrastructure issues that have long been neglected. However, Governor Patrick, who had originally proposed $1.2 billion in new transportation revenue by the 2018 fiscal year, argues that the bill falls short of $800 million because it does not compensate for revenue lost if the tolls on the "western" section of the Turnpike are eliminated as scheduled on January 1, 2017. In this eventuality, the governor proposed a hike in the gas tax to compensate. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray made it clear they would not even consider the validity of the governor's concern when they summarily rejected his amendment before he was done discussing it with reporters at a press conference on Tuesday.
It should be noted that in Beacon Hill-speak, the "western" tolls are those west of the Interstate 95 interchange. This attests to the Boston orientation of the Legislature, where everything east of Route 95 is seen as eastern Massachusetts and everything else is the Wild West. The tolls in what is truly Western Massachusetts -- between exits 1 and 6 -- were removed 17 years ago at a cost of roughly $15 million in annual revenue. Talk of returning the tolls emerges now and then, as was the case in late June, but goes no further.
Governor Patrick, a part-time resident of Richmond, has been an advocate for the Berkshires, and if a transportation budget shortfall emerges after he has left office there is a real danger that eastern-oriented legislative leadership will address it by trimming financing for projects out in the real West. The Legislature apparently has the votes to override a gubernatorial veto of the transportation bill, and this bill is much better than no bill at all. However, there is no pretending that Governor Patrick has raised a financial issue that could affect us down the road.