Accept our tax plan or Mbta riders get it.
That appears to be the bargaining position of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill as lawmakers dig in their heels against lobbying by Deval Patrick over a tax package aimed at resolving two pressing issues. Asked about moving beyond the $500 million plan offered this week, he said:
“Getting to a higher number does not appear at all likely,” he said.Both Dempsey and his boss, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, insist the package is more than enough to prevent another round of MBTA fare hikes a year after a 23 percent increase.
I'd feel a lot better about the claim if I didn't know the Legislature's history in dealing with transportation issues, from the Big Dig itself to the decision to saddle the MBTA with a major hunk of the Big Dig debt in order to bail out the late, unlamented Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
And I would also feel better about the proposed 3-cent per gallon gasoline tax hike if I didn't know that lawmakers have already rejected proposed 19-cent gas tax hike to deal with the massive transportation issues their endless dithering has caused.
Let's stipulate the Patrick's $1.9 billion tax overhaul targeting both transportation and education is a major overreach and that the issues should be uncoupled.
But when the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation says we need at least $800 million in new revenues to begin tackling the problems of roads, bridges and public transportation, the legislative package starts to look feeble.
So feeble in fact that some members are willing to express their doubts publicly, if not by name about the ability to pass the bill, let alone override a threatened gubernatorial veto:
“Not only do I not think that we have the votes to override, I don’t know whether we have the votes to pass it,” said one Democrat. “I don’t know what the House is going to do, but I think the debate on our side is far from a foregone conclusion.”The situation reminds me of the state of affairs in the late 1980s when lawmakers could not agree on even acting to deal with the state's fiscal crisis, prompting then Gov. Michael Dukakis to label them "gutless wonders."
The Great and General Court has repeated the pattern countless times on the issue of transportation and taxes alone. So here's a suggestion for grabbing some attention.
As part of any fare hike-service cut scenario, the MBTA should shut down the Haverhill commuter rail branch and use buses instead of the Blue Line through DeLeo's district.
Alas, I doubt anyone has the guts for that either.