I want to offer my thanks to everyone who has joined the discussion about the transportation reform package the governor announced, on this blog and in conversations across the state. I invite you to review the details of the plan and its potential impact on our economy.
We have some hard choices to make, and in that spirit I look to the example of one of my favorite presidents, Harry Truman, who was famous for “The Buck Stops Here” sign on his desk. One thing I hope never to do is pass the buck. The worst thing I could do would be to pretend the problems on our roads and bridges aren’t real. But the fact is, our transportation system is the backbone of our economy, and we can’t let it continue to degrade into ruins. For Massachusetts to get back on the road to recovery, we have to make sure our roads are passable, our bridges are safe, and that we can sustain that infrastructure over the long term.
Investing in our roads, rails and bridges will create jobs by stimulating construction, and it will help grow our economy in the long term, by making sure we have a safe and sustainable transportation network.
Many of the headlines and sound bites of recent days have focused on the 19 cents per gallon increase in the gas tax we proposed to help pay for this program, and I understand that. Taxes are newsworthy. But this plan is comprehensive and includes major reforms that are sorely needed. It’s not just about the gas tax.
Our administration’s proposal would consolidate transportation management under one integrated executive office. We would abolish the Turnpike Authority and create a single department to handle all of the state’s highways, bridges and tunnels. We would eliminate the excessive pension loopholes that allow certain people to cash in at the taxpayers’ expense. We would create an Office of Performance Management to report to the public on the effectiveness of our transportation spending. And we would enact the reforms proposed by the Transportation Finance Commission, a bi-partisan group that took a hard look at our failing system and made many clear-minded suggestions. (Click here to read their report.)
This package of reforms will save billions of taxpayer dollars over time, and cut the state transportation payroll by about 300 jobs through efficiencies realized by consolidating overlapping functions. But even these reforms won’t free up enough money to make the desperately needed investments required in our infrastructure all across this state—to do that will require some new revenue and I believe that the gas tax is the fairest way to achieve that.
No one likes to pay more in taxes, and the governor and I would not ask people to pay more unless we thought it was necessary. I believe, however, that the people of Massachusetts are fundamentally fair-minded and will take the time to look past the headlines and think about the real issues at stake here.
That’s what civic engagement and informed democracy are all about. I believe that when government is honest with the people it serves, that’s the first step on the road to consensus and solution, even for very difficult issues.
Unfortunately, when it comes to our transportation system, the Big Dig, the MBTA and the Turnpike, honesty has not always been part of the debate. In fact, this Commonwealth has been left with a legacy of debt and denial by prior administrations unwilling to deal with the reality of crumbling roads and bridges, bloated and counterproductive bureaucracies, and the fiscal shell games they used to hide the problems.
That’s not how the governor and I do business. I believe that if we have the will to make these reforms and invest in our roads, bridges and public transportation systems, then we will position Massachusetts for long-term economic growth. But we can’t do it for free, or by running up more debt to burden future generations. We have to pay for it.
If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to learn all about our transportation proposal (click here to read all the details.) When you do, I hope you will agree that it makes the most sense, given the realities we face.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments. You may email me directly at LtGovOffice@state.ma.us with any ideas or concerns you have. By working together, I know we can make progress.
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