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The Boston Globe


State House rejects Patrick’s plan for transportation finance

Governor Patrick acknowledges impasse

The Massachusetts House of Representatives rejected Wednesday Governor Deval Patrick’s attempts to further increase the gas tax to raise more revenue for the state’s transportation agencies, sending the $800 million transportation finance bill to the Senate, which will vote on it Thursday.

In an amendment to the Legislature’s funding plan, the governor had asked for an increase in the gas tax to make up for lost revenue if tolls are eliminated on the Massachusetts Turnpike, which becomes legally possible in 2017.

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The House instead passed an amendment in a 123-to-31 vote that effectively struck out Patrick’s proposed changes.

The House vote suggested that Speaker Robert A. DeLeo will have the support of more than two-thirds of the legislative body in the event Patrick vetoes the legislation.

The House and Senate have agreed on a bill that increases taxes on gas, cigarettes, and computer software companies to close the MBTA’s budget shortfall and fund what state officials say are much-needed improvements to the transportation system.

Though far less than the sweeping funding package he introduced in January, Patrick has agreed with the sum approved by the House and Senate, $800 million in new transportation revenue by 2018, but says he is concerned that if turnpike tolls are eliminated, promised revenue will vanish, and the state’s transportation agency could receive significantly less.

But lawmakers had said the funding they have outlined in the bill is based on reliable sources.

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In a statement, Jesse Mermell, spokeswoman for Patrick, said the governor was disappointed but not surprised by the House vote.

“The options are to deal with this now or to deal with this later; the governor believes we should deal with this now,” Mermell said. “We lost that point in the House today. We will try tomorrow in the Senate.”

DeLeo said the governor is exaggerating the likelihood that tolls will be eliminated: That would only be possible if the transportation secretary deems the roads to be in good repair with no need for additional improvements, he said. The chances of that being the case, he said, are minimal.

“To say right now, in 2013, what the issue is in 2017, I think is much too premature,” DeLeo said.

Only two Democrats, Colleen Garry of Dracut and James Miceli of Wilmington, voted against the amendment that killed Patrick’s proposal. After the Senate votes, the bill will be sent back to Patrick.

If Patrick vetoes the legislation, House Republicans would not vote to override it, said Representative Bradley H. Jones, the House minority leader. Republicans in the House have opposed the tax increases from the beginning, he said.

Representative Brian Mannal, Democrat of Barnstable, said the bill has more than enough support in the House to survive a veto if Patrick follows through on his promise to reject the legislation.

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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