Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Quiet Ride on Massachusetts' Transportation Reform Train

The Senate was so silent you hardly heard them.

That's how it is in this 'liberal" state -- everything BEHIND CLOSED DOORS!!!!!

"Senate backs bill to merge T, Pike; State expects savings under mega-agency" by Noah Bierman, Globe Staff | March 26, 2009

As credit analysts issued their latest warning about the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the state Senate yesterday passed a bill....

The bill would eliminate the Turnpike Authority and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is also in a fiscal crisis, and replace them with a new mega-agency that would oversee all roads, bridges, tunnels, subways, trains, and buses. Despite months of discussion leading up to the vote, lawmakers spent little time publicly debating the 278-page bill, working out most of the issues behind closed doors.

The most heated debate yesterday revolved around a last-minute amendment to require the MBTA to get local zoning approval before erecting new billboards on its property, a response to the T's announcement earlier this week that it would ramp up its ad revenue by auctioning off 60 new billboards in Eastern Massachusetts. The amendment failed 12 to 26.

Transportation has become one of the most contentious issues on Beacon Hill this session, as the Turnpike Authority and the T contemplate substantial toll and fare increases and the state highway system struggles to repair decrepit bridges. The system is billions of dollars in debt, due in large part to the Big Dig. The Senate bill delayed a discussion of how to raise money to pay that debt, though lawmakers are hoping to find long-term savings through restructuring....

Screw the damn looting banks!

Yesterday, senators scrupulously avoided discussing Governor Deval Patrick's plan to raise the gas tax by 19 cents to avoid toll and fare hikes. Key legislators have so far balked at Patrick's figure, but many have agreed they will have to come up with another source of money....

We all know what that means (as I reach for my wallet).

Yesterday's report from Fitch Rating, one of two agencies that evaluates the Turnpike Authority's credit, underscored the urgency of fixing the problem. Fitch warned the authority that its weak credit rating is in danger of getting worse, because its board decided Monday to delay a toll increase that had been scheduled to take effect this Sunday.

Fitch Rating placed the authority on "negative watch" for a credit downgrade, citing the political pressures on the authority to delay toll hikes. Fitch had removed the "negative watch" label from the authority last month, after it initially passed the toll increase. The authority will now draw money from its rainy-day fund to plug its budget gap.


Also see:
Looting Legislators Ease Up on Gas Pedal