State officials grilled-Transportation overhaul gets scrutiny at hearing
BROCKTON – State transportation officials were on the hot seat Wednesday as members of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committees fired questions about Gov. Deval Patrick’s 2014 fiscal year budget proposal, asking how proposed tax hikes to pay for transportation improvements would affect citizens and the state’s debt limits.
Chief among the issues during the morning budget hearing at the Massasoit Conference Center was Patrick’s plan to pay for transportation improvements and maintenance with a 1 percent increase in the state income tax.
Davey said the transportation portion of the governor’s budget proposal would dedicate money to “high quality infrastructure maintenance.”
The hearing – one of several scheduled around the state – was co-chaired by Sen. Thomas Kennedy and Rep. Christine Canavan, both Brockton Democrats.
The main concern among representatives and senators on the panel was the economic implications of what Plymouth Republican Rep. Vinny deMacedo called “an ambitious and controversial proposal.”
Davey said the budget will close the MBTA’s $115 million operating deficit in the 2014 fiscal year and end the funding of highway operations with what he called “the state credit card” – borrowing money to pay regular expenses.
He said the budget would save the state more than $100 million, but stressed that Massachusetts would have to raise additional funding to fix the state’s transportation problems.
“Reform alone is not enough to accomplish what the public expects. We must be willing to invest additional resources into the system if we are to fix our system once and for all,” Davey said.
According to the transportation department, an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 jobs will be lost in Massachusetts by 2030 unless a deficient highway transportation system is fixed.
Rep. Carl Scortino, D-Medford, agreed with Davey that inaction is not the solution.
“We can’t afford not to make this investment,” he said.
DeMacedo asked if the budget would actually lower the MBTA deficit or simply place more of a burden on Massachusetts citizens.
“We’ve proposed an additional MBTA debt relief line in our budget and it matches what the expected operating deficit for the T, per year, over the next 10 years,” Davey responded.
But, Rep. David Viera, R-East Falmouth, wondered if the budget would raise the state’s debt cap.
“We made sure we were just not raising the ceiling,” Davey said, “Debt is OK if you have the revenue to pay for it. And with this plan, we are attaching revenues to pay the debt going forward.”
Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, and a member of the panel, praised Davey for his work.
“Secretary Davey is doing a terrific job,” he said.
Upcoming hearings are scheduled for Fitchburg, Greenfield and Hanover, with the final budget hearing scheduled for March 8 at the Statehouse.