Governor Deval Patrick swiped back at legislators Thursday, threatening to veto the less ambitious transportation revenue proposal put forth by the two branches in what is amounting to an increasingly public and pointed fight among state leaders.
Patrick, in a 35-minute State House news conference, went so far as to intimate that House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray were refusing to compromise with a governor of their own party.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who can say we have not bent over backwards,” Patrick said, sounding astonished. “It takes two to engage. It takes two parties to reach a deal, not just me coming in and talking to them.”
He added, “If it comes to me in the current form . . . I’m going to have to veto it,” Patrick said. “It won’t be a surprise to the members of the Legislature.”
DeLeo was anything but contrite in the hours after Patrick’s appearance. He disputed Patrick’s assertions that the legislators’ smaller transportation package would cost residents more money in the long run.
“I think arithmetic will show that our plan is more responsive to the needs of the middle class,” DeLeo said. “It’s not the House and the Senate plan that’s talking about the increase in the income tax.”
The back and forth was the rawest exchange in the often uneasy relationships between Patrick, DeLeo, and Murray, in a return to the biting, often personality-driven disputes in the past.
The $500 million transportation finance bill proposed by House and Senate Democrats, which would raise gas, tobacco, and business-related taxes to increase funding for transportation needs, was significantly more limited than a proposal Patrick made in January that called for major investments in current transit systems and new transportation projects.
Patrick said the conversations he had with legislators in recent weeks about a compromise on his ambitious plan were one-sided. After the press conference, he added that he had not heard from either the House or Senate leaders since their announcement Tuesday.
The plan announced by House and Senate leaders would raise the state gas tax by 3 cents, then index the rate to inflation beginning in 2015. The bill also included an additional tax on tobacco products, which would raise $165 million annually, as well as $244 million in business-related taxes.
Patrick’s plan called for $1.9 billion annually in transportation and education funding, which he proposed could come from raising the income tax by 1 percent while cutting the sales tax by 1.75 percent.
The House-Senate plan garnered vehement criticism from all corners, with transportation advocates calling the proposal too small to elicit tangible improvements. Republicans blasted the bill for failing to require transportation agencies to cut costs, and criticizing Democrats for not holding a public hearing to discuss the bill.
“The decision to force a massive tax hike on working families without their input is pure one-party rule run amok and is an insult to taxpayers,” said Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the state Republican Party.
Even as Patrick hopes for a compromise, he has set plans in motion to halt previously approved infrastructure projects in an effort to preserve transportation money, a measure that he said was made necessary by the Legislature’s current plan.
In a memo sent Thursday from Patrick to Richard A. Davey, secretary of transportation, and the heads of several other state departments, the governor called on the administrators to prepare a plan, due in 30 days, listing capital projects that could be eliminated or postponed.
“While the process of reaching final legislation is ongoing, we should be prepared to curtail current transportation, business development, environmental, recreational and other infrastructure investments should the Legislature’s proposal carry the day,” Patrick’s memo read.
At Thursday’s press conference, Patrick provided a long list of his objections to the legislators’ bill, saying he believes their plan would prompt steep MBTA fare increases in coming years, and lead to decaying roads and bridges and a diminished quality of public transit throughout the region.
Patrick pointed to recent instances that he called evidence of the need for more transportation funding, including a Red Line train that ran with an open door this week, and a piece of concrete supporting an elevated section of Interstate 91 that came loose in Springfield on Wednesday.
“From what we can tell, everybody pays more and gets less,” Patrick said.
“This is a return to an old way of doing business,” he continued. “It’s the same short-term fiscal shell game that got us the Big Dig and the mess that followed.”
Patrick said he was not certain that there would be enough votes in the House and Senate to prevent legislators from overriding his veto.
He chuckled when asked whether he felt he had been blind-sided by the Legislature’s significant departure from his proposal. He said he was surprised when he received a summary of the bill one hour before it was announced, and suggested that he had communicated with legislators in recent weeks about his willingness to come to a compromise.
“We have talked about a couple different alternatives, and I will say that I’ve done most of the talking in those conversations,” Patrick said. “And when I say alternatives, I mean both in terms of the size of the package and the way to raise the revenue.”
DeLeo maintained that the Legislature’s plan was a more fiscally prudent option for the state, and would help maintain the state’s credit rating, which he said was a high priority.
DeLeo added that he disagrees with Patrick’s pronouncement that the legislators’ funding plan would prompt steeper MBTA fare hikes.
“There’s no need to raise fares,” DeLeo said. “I can’t say forever, no one could ever say forever . . . This plan provides for sufficient revenue to address the issue at the T. There’s some $500 million in this plan, I believe the T’s shortfall is somewhere around $125 million. I think that adds up.”
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