Mass. lawmakers rebuff Patrick on transportation
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick was poised to veto a massive transportation financing bill after the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday joined the House in rejecting a gas tax measure the governor said was required for him to sign on.
The Senate voted 29-9 to approve technical changes in the bill, but did not include Patrick’s requested automatic increase in the gasoline tax if tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike come down as scheduled in 2017.
If no votes were to change, the margin of passage in the Senate — as was the case in the House — would be above the two-thirds threshold needed to overturn a veto. Senate President Therese Murray expressed confidence after Thursday’s vote that a veto would be overridden in the Senate.
The bill calls for $500 million in new taxes and seeks to provide financing for long-stalled projects, pumping billions into the state’s transportation systems over the next decade. The bill would also close a budget shortfall at the MBTA, heading off any immediate fare hikes or service cuts on the Boston-area transit system.
Patrick met with some senators prior to the vote to discuss what he said were some possible alternatives to his amendment, but reiterated his promise to veto the bill if it returned to his desk without the change he sought.
The governor maintains that without the western tolls or an equivalent amount of revenue, the bill could not deliver the $800 million in new annual revenue dedicated to transportation that the legislation promises by 2018.
“It is wrong to say to the public that we are sending you an $800 million solution that is not in fact an $800 million solution,” Patrick told reporters during an appearance in Somerville. The governor has said he is willing to compromise on his original goal of $1.2 billion for transportation.
Murray said lawmakers understood the governor’s concerns but felt the bill was already strong enough and that any revenue shortfalls could be addressed in the future.
“If in 2017 there is a need, there is a legislature that will still be here,” Murray said. “Transportation bills should be done every year, not every five years, not every ten years.”
The bill already includes a 3 cent per gallon hike in the gasoline tax and, with gas prices soaring in recent days, lawmakers appeared reluctant to approve any further increase in the tax — even one that might not take effect for several years.
The Senate on Thursday also rejected a series of Republican-backed amendments to eliminate or soften the tax increases in the bill.
“We are in the midst of a tempest of taxation,” argued Republican leader Sen. Bruce Tarr.
In addition to the gas tax, the bill raises the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and imposes the state sales tax on computer and software services.
Patrick last week vetoed $417 million in funds for transportation and local aid from the state’s $34 billion budget, citing the lack of consensus on the transportation financing measure.
Murray said she expected lawmakers to restore those funds once the transportation measure is finally in place.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report from Somerville.