Gov. Patrick vetoes transportation financing bill
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday kept his promise to veto a massive transportation financing bill, saying it wasn’t good enough after lawmakers rejected his demand to include a plan for offsetting a potential loss of turnpike tolls.
Patrick, a Democrat, said he was acting with “mixed emotions” because the bill included many positive elements.
Legislative leaders in the House and the Senate have expressed confidence they have sufficient votes to override the veto.
The bill, which calls for $500 million in new taxes, seeks to pump billions of dollars into the state’s transportation network over the next decade, allowing the state to modernize its aging infrastructure and jumpstart stalled projects including the expansion of commuter rail to the South Coast.
The legislation would end the practice of borrowing to pay salaries of state transportation workers and close the MBTA’s $115 million deficit, heading off another round of fare increases or service reductions.
Patrick said in a statement the bill enables state leaders to reinvest in the transportation network after decades of neglect, provides short-term resources to deal with pressing needs and will stimulate many jobs.
“But,” he added, “this bill is not good enough.”
The bill’s key flaw, he said, is that it doesn’t address the problem of how to replace lost revenue if tolls west of Interstate 95 come down as scheduled in 2017. While some lawmakers are of the belief the tolls will not come down, the governor criticized the Legislature for choosing to deal with the question later.
“I believe this is an issue to be dealt with now, not put off to another day,” he said.
Patrick’s amendment would have allowed for an automatic increase in the state’s gas tax if the western tolls come down.
The House on Wednesday voted 121-31 to send the bill back to the governor without the change, and the Senate did the same on Thursday by a 29-9 margin. Those margins, if they held up, would be above the two-thirds threshold needed to override the veto.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Democrat, said Friday the House would take up the veto next week and called the version approved by the Legislature a “carefully balanced package.”
Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey said if the current bill became law over the veto the administration would make the best of it while pushing for further discussion of transportation.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who voted against the bill, said it would not assure adequate funding for South Coast rail, a project many view as critical to the southeastern Massachusetts economy. Davey said it was too early to say if the project could go forward under the current bill but added it remained one of the governor’s top transportation priorities.
The bill includes a 3 cent-per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax and would index future increases in the tax to inflation. It also raises the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and imposes the state sales tax on computer software and services.