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Fact, fiction, and adult conversations about transportation

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If more evidence was needed that the state transportation sector is in freefall, Dana Levenson, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s chief financial officer, has obliged.

The State House News Service reported that Levenson, who appeared before the MassDOT finance and audit committee yesterday, called the department’s fiscal 2013 budget “fictional.”

"But it is a balanced budget based on past practices,” he said.

The Transportation Finance Commission identified the fiscal flaw of using borrowed funds to pay employees, particularly at MassHighway, five years ago.

Cue Ferdinand Alvaro, MassDOT board’s finance and audit committee chairman to point out the folly of the practice once again. He added that he would not support future budgets that rely on that mechanism.

Meanwhile, the MBTA continues its descent into the twilight zone. According to a second State House News Service report (subscription required), independent auditors discovered slipshod procurement practices and “non compliance” with federal regulations.

Wearing his MBTA board member hat, Alvaro commented, ”We have a system where we don’t even know if people are stealing from us.”

Does the MBTA need a control board after all? MassDOT officials have downplayed the need for another group to ride herd on the agency. But if further investigations uncover more than lax inventory controls, the proposal that was defeated in the Senate last week might not seem so far-fetched.

Not surprisingly, the MassDOT/MBTA board and the Legislature continue to point fingers at each other over who is to blame for the lack of progress on solving the state’s transportation quandaries. State lawmakers’ complaints about the MassDOT/MBTA board’s lack of initiative have some merit. Apart from Alvaro, the board has been largely silent about the financial chaos at the MBTA, with no specific policy prescriptions offered that would put either MassDOT or the MBTA on more solid financial footing.

Beacon Hill isn’t blameless in this current state of affairs. Other than providing funds to stave off the latest T budget emergency, legislators have consistently failed to gin up any new ideas on how to revive a sector that is running on fumes. Speaker Robert DeLeo has said that situation will change…next year.  Gov. Deval Patrick has been unwilling to stick his neck out for transportation since his gas tax proposal died in 2009.

There has been plenty of chatter about the need for an adult conversation on financing transportation in Massachusetts. What’s missing are the adults who will step forward to steer the conversation from the realm of fiction into the real world.

                                                                                                                                                --GABRIELLE GURLEY


MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua and the City Council clash over the city budget, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Fitchburg approves a $101 million budget.

Rehoboth voters reject a property tax surcharge to pay for a new town hall.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Senate leaders say a student loan deal is reached, the Washington Post reports.

The National Rifle Association is enjoying Eric Holder’s standoff with Congress.

ELECTION 2012

The earnest Scot Lehigh asks for, but can’t seem to obtain, the details of Mitt Romney’s plans for both huge tax cuts and a balanced budget.  

Democrats are coming to terms with the inevitability of getting outspent in November.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Charles Rangel fend off primary challenges.

FISHING

The interim director of the National Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, which has been under fire from local fishermen questioning the accuracy of fish stock assessments, has been appointed the permanent head of the center. Meanwhile, former state rep. John Quinn was appointed to a seat on the National Fisheries Management Council after being nominated by Gov. Deval Patrick.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Devens goes Hollywood as a Massachusetts group begins construction on a $30 million sound-stage complex, CommonWealth reports.

Steve Belkin, whose 2006 proposal for a 1,000-foot tower in downtown Boston fizzled with the economy, is back with a plan for a new skyscraper.

Home sales may be up in the state but values remain static.

EDUCATION

After two years of contentious negotiations, teachers in Andover ratify a new contract, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Marlborough School Superintendent Anthony Pope resigns after months of turmoil.

Roxbury Community College names an interim president -- after two other candidates decline the offer.

A Harvard museum and organizers of a conference in Switzerland are clashing over the rights to use racist imagery commissioned by Louis Agassiz, a Swiss-born, mid-19th century Harvard professor.

A teacher tenure law is passed by the legislature in New Jersey and sent to Gov. Chris Christie, the Star-Ledger reports.

A new playoff system for college football is announced, the Wall Street Journal reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Macy’s Downtown Crossing Station? Genzyme Kendall, next stop? The cash-strapped MBTA wants to sell naming rights to stations.  

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno comes out against Pioneer Valley Transit Authority fare hikes.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

“The bear” lands in pricey Brookline. Literally. Brian McGrory speaks for the multitudes, asking why it had to happen this way.  

Portland, Oregon, cuts back curbside trash pickup to once every two weeks, increases composting, and cuts the tonnage flowing into its landfills by 43 percent.

Global warming: It’s a thing, and it can be regulated, according to a federal appeals court.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

One of the seven correction officers hospitalized after an inmate attack at a state prison in Shirley was stabbed in the neck, the Sun reports.

An assistant manager opening the Rent-A-Center in Brockton found a would-be burglar laying on the loading docking floor with his head stuck between the concrete floor and the rolling metal door. And he videotaped the scene while waiting for the police.

A church youth leader in Easton was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of rape of a child.

The estate of Debra Davis goes after Catherine Greig and her twin sister, Margaret McCusker.

Holliston police resort to fundraising to buy a police dog.

MEDIA

Writer Nora Ephron dies at 71. See NECN’s report here. The New York Times obit is here and the New Yorker showcases Ephron’s writing for the magazine. Time analyzes what was special about Ephron.

CNN viewership plummets; the network blames it on a lack of news, the New York Times reports.

A Wall Street Journal intern is fired for fabricating sources, Poynter reports. A New Canaan News reporter, now fired, may have fabricated sources in at least 25 stories that appeared in the Connecticut newspaper, reports Poynter.

Radio Boston analyzes Boston.com’s bid to enter online radio. The Phoenix announces it, too, will get into online streaming by reviving WFNX on the Internet. Via Universal Hub.

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