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DeLeo backs ‘smaller’ transportation bill

Says fixing T budget a top priority

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo this morning said he will push for a “smaller package” of transportation funding than the expansive proposal floated by Governor Deval Patrick, saying it’s a top priority to provide an influx of revenue to the MBTA and regional transit authorities.

“We have some issues we have to address,” DeLeo said, adding later that he hopes to prevent MBTA fare increases. “The T debt has to be addressed.”

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DeLeo addressed members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel this morning, giving the business leaders the clearest picture yet of the form that the House’s transportation finance bill will take.

Though Patrick’s proposal outlined a series of large-scale investments in roads, bridges, trains, and buses -- potentially funded by increases in gas taxes, income taxes, and tolls -- DeLeo today called for a more pared-down approach that would place less of a burden on taxpayers.

Funding for the T and regional bus services will likely be part of the House’s bill, DeLeo said, but must be coupled with cuts to operating costs within the state’s Department of Transportation.

DeLeo said he is hopeful a draft of the bill will be completed by the end of March or early April.

Though DeLeo declined to give details on the kinds of tax increases he planned to support, he says he will push for that new revenue to be specifically earmarked for transportation, and nothing else. He also said any transportation finance bill must benefit all areas of the state.

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“This isn’t just about the T. This isn’t just about Boston,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo said he does not view himself at odds with Patrick on transportation finance, but that he is simply taking a more cautious approach.

“We’re putting emphasis on the same subject matters, transportation and education,” DeLeo said. “Maybe we might have to go in a different direction or maybe at a slower pace in some of those areas.”

“I think at some point we’ll arrive at a mutually agreeable place,” DeLeo continued.

Martine Powers can be reached at MPowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MartinePowers

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not clearly portray Representative William M. Straus’s comments about the status of projects such as the South Coast Rail and the Green Line extension. Straus believes such long-term projects could be included in a legislative transportation finance bill without requiring any immediate increase in spending, because construction would not begin for several years.

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