BOSTON - Faced with a few hard-to-swallow proposals, lawmakers are already picking apart the recommendations of the group they commissioned to solve the state's transportation funding problems.
Faced with a few hard-to-swallow proposals, lawmakers are already picking apart the recommendations of the group they commissioned to solve the state's transportation funding problems.
The Transportation Finance Commission report, released Monday, recommends increasing the gas tax 11.5 cents per gallon, implementing highway user fees, partnering with private businesses on infrastructure projects, and cutting excessive retirement benefits for Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority employees.
MetroWest lawmakers have already begun to reject some of the 28 revenue-raising and cost-saving recommendations worth an estimated $21 billion, exactly what the commission hoped to avoid.
"Of course they're going to meet some resistance," said commission member Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association. "But when we look at the size of the problem and we look at the consequences of inaction then we have to act as a commonwealth."
Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, approved of the gas-tax hike as well as adding tolls near state borders.
"We study, study, study things to death and then maybe sometime 10 to 15 years down the road things get going - clearly we don't have that kind of time," said Spilka, whose bill to eliminate Turnpike tolls and increase the gas tax has been stuck in committee since January. "We all believe the same final goal, but how we get there is sometimes not easy."
But like the governor, and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, many local legislators are skeptical about raising the gas tax for the first time since 1991.
"That 11.5 cents - would somebody please come up with a recommendation to do something for savings?" Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham asked. "Merge the bathrooms, save money on the toiletries, merge the legal departments. Do something."
Rep. Stephen LeDuc, D-Marlborough, anticipated little support for the commission's proposed 5-cent-per-mile user fee, which would be charged using tracking devices to clock each driver's highway miles.
"It raises the level of big brother to a level we don't ever want to get to. It's a slippery slope that I don't think we're interested in," said LeDuc, who favors increasing the number of toll roads over a gas tax hike.
Commission chairman Stephen Silveira and fellow member Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, dismissed privacy concerns, saying GPS tracking is becoming a way of life in the 21st Century.
"We're going to see these kind of changes whether we like it or not. It is going to be universal in the next 25 years," predicted Widmer, who said the GPS tracking would remove the need for toll barriers, or at least allow Massachusetts residents to travel through them at highway speeds.
"Although it is a daunting task to try to fix transportation funding in one fell swoop, it is encouraging that there is a recognition that everyone across the state must share equally in that burden," said Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, who did not want to take a position on any of the recommendations.
According to Brown, there is plenty of time left before the session ends in August to implement the recommendations if the Legislature can agree.
"They pass bills in a day so if they want to they'll do it," Brown said of the leaderships' ability to push their prerogatives through the House and Senate.
The Legislature has no obligation to act on the report, but commission members were optimistic that at least some of their suggestions would be adopted.
"We all hope that at the end of the day it's not a report that sits there and collects dust," said commission member James Aloisi Jr. "(We hope) that it's a report that's acted on in a reasonably prompt and reasonable way so that people in Massachusetts can have some confidence that their transportation system is going to work for them, not just now but into the future."