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The Download: Mass. rail projects to cash in again?

Posted in: Transportation   Municipal government   Massachusetts Legislature   Jobs   Current Affairs
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott decided on Wednesday that he couldn’t be bothered to use the $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail stimulus funds to build a link from Orlando to Tampa. His explanation: anemic ridership projections and the potential for cost overruns made the project too much of a risk. But Tampa officials say the governor didn’t even wait for a state transportation department to finish its ridership study.

Scott is the third Republican governor to go for the givebacks. Two other new Republicans governors, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, sent back their high-speed rail funds, saying goodbye to about $1.2 billion.

Massachusetts received nearly $3 million of those giveback funds, according to US Department of Transportation figures. South Coast Rail, linking New Bedford and Fall River to Boston, has long been a project in search of a couple of billion dollars.

South Coast rail lost out again in December. With less costly links like the Springfield-Hartford-St Albans, Vermont high-speed rail plan closer to fruition, the nearly $3 million in givebacks went out to the western Massachusetts project.

With the financing plan is still up in the air, state transportation officials tried and failed to get the federal government to foot the bill for the entire project last year. (South Coast Rail has also been criticized for its low ridership projections and operating costs that the MBTA can’t support.)

The prospect of any new billions should have Gov. Deval Patrick nudging US Reps. Michael Capauno, a member of the House transportation committee, and Barney Frank who represents Fall River and New Bedford (if he can take time out from the fishing feud with the Obama administration) to the head of the line, yes?  MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said Thursday morning that a decision has not been made as yet on whether or not seek the Florida givebacks.

US Reps. Louise Slaughter and Paul Tonko are way out in front of their Bay State colleagues. The two New York Democrats moved faster than a New York minute to petition US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for any money that Florida no longer wants. LaHood has indicated that other states also are likely to be interested in the newly available dollars. And Maryland, California and Washington State have already said, “Please, can I have some more?”

But America’s high-speed visionaries seem to be limited to President Obama and Amtrak fan Vice President Joe Biden. Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen noted that America’s international competitors are taking a more forward-looking approach to transportation modernization projects. Said Benen, “We could do that here and reap the rewards -- job creation, economic development, cleaner air, less congested roads, etc. -- but instead we have governors like Rick Scott, John Kasich, and Scott Walker.”  Yet a Washington Post editorial slams the fascination with rail networks in Asia and Europe and terms the president’s high-speed rail plans “a race everyone loses.”

However, the rail naysayers aren’t going to deter officials on either coast from swooping in to pick up Uncle Sam’s loose change. Benen continues “Postscript: In case you're wondering, when far-right governors turn down rail funds, federal officials re-direct the money to other projects in less-ridiculous states.”

Like Massachusetts.    

                                                                                                                                                                            --GABRIELLE GURLEY

HEAlTH CARE

Gov. Patrick plans to file legislation today to revamp the state's health care payment system, setting up a system of global payments for state workers and those covered by subsidized state plans in place of the traditional fee-for-service system.

The MetroWest Daily News argues that cities and towns are sitting on “another timebomb” if they don’t begin setting aside money to pay for retirees health care costs. A new Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report says that the state’s 50 largest municipalities have about $20 billion in unfunded liabilities over the next 30 years, billions higher than previous estimates; the remaining communities have about  $10 billion above previous estimates.

BEACON HILL

Patrick and state lawmakers need to look at economic development and job creation proposals as well as further pension reforms to help get the state’s “financial house in order,” says the Cape Cod Times.

Meanwhile, Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino urge other mayors to work cooperatively to push through legislation that would yield relief on pension and health insurance costs. Patrick also pushes regionalization, the Salem News reports.

It's ka-ching for Kinton, as Tom Kinton, the longtime executive director of Massport announced he will retire in June, setting up a much-discussed payout of $459,000 for unused sick time.  Kinton defends his sick time buyback, while the Patrick administration says it won't challenge the award.

WASHINGTON: 2012 BUDGET

A bipartisan group in the Senate is drafting a deficit reduction plan that would include unpalatable automatic triggers if spending cuts lagged the rhetoric surrounding them.

The White House, House Democrats and Tea Party Republicans join forces to shoot down a $450 million GE jet program coveted by House Speaker John Boehner and by US Rep. John Tierney, who represents Lynn, where GE says the project would bring more than 400jobs.

SCOTT BROWN

US Sen. Scott Brown reveals in his soon-to-be released autobiography that he was sexually abused as a boy by a camp counselor and that he endured harsh beatings by his stepfather. The Eagle-Tribune carries an AP story on Brown’s revelations. NECN’s Jim Braude comments and has the clip from Brown’s upcoming “60 Minutes” interview.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of Massachusetts mayors in Salem, there’s lots of buzz about Democrats who might challenge Brown in 2012. The Salem News reports the list includes Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, and New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang.

ELECTION 2012

The Atlantic's Joshua Green says that if Donald Trump is a ludicrous presidential wannabe, then so is much of the rest of the GOP crop - all of whom share some of The Donald's more unsavory political and personal traits.

ECONOMY/BUSINESS

Sanofi-Aventis, the French pharmaceutical giant that is buying Genzyme, acknowledged yesterday that the acquisition could lead to some job losses at the Cambridge-based biotech firm. Yet others believe that the move enhances Genzyme’s already strong presence in MetroWest locales like Framingham, reports The MetroWest Daily News. The CEO of Sanofi-Aventis tells WBUR he wants to maintain the identity of Genzyme.

The kicker Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer will get from selling his company makes Kinton's Massport payout look like pocket lint.

In the latest blow to redevelopment efforts along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the YMCA of Greater Boston has shelved plans for a $70 million community center along the strip of downtown parkland.

In a filing, Dominion Energy of Virginia indicates it may shut down Salem Harbor Station by 2014, the Salem News reports.

STATE OF THE STATES

Wisconsin public workers greet steep budget cuts with a full-on state house rebellion. 

EDUCATION

US News & World Report breaks down the compensation for college presidents and finds, on average, each student is paying $150 for his or her school’s president. And just because it’s US News, there’s a list of presidents who carry the highest per student cost.

A Weymouth High School teacher with a record for assault was fired after being accused of hitting a student in the classroom.

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The Cape Cod Times points out that President Obama needs to speed up US investments in renewable energy to shake the country’s dependence on “short-term” fossil fuel fixes.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/PUBLIC SAFETY

The arrest on assault charges of a convicted murder who was released in 2007 on parole is raising more questions about the review of cases by the state Parole Board in recent years.

A regional data system paid for by a Homeland Security grant will let police departments across Franklin County share up-to-date information and will eventually be expanded for communication among all the cities’ and towns’ emergency services.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Really? With state and federal aid drying up, home values in the tank, and cuts and layoffs to nearly all local services, the Weymouth Town Council is considering doubling council members’ salaries and raising the mayor’s pay by $40,000.

TRANSPORTATION

Like the snow this winter, criticism keeps piling on the MBTA as Keller@Large gets cynical reactions from commuters and legislators to management’s promise to improve on its ability to keep up with the winter weather.

HERO WORSHIP

The American Spectator waxes nostalgic over baseball great Stan “The Man” Musial receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and compares everybody’s all-American hero of the 1950s with fellow recipient and white America’s moral thorn in the side, William Felton Russell, of the 11-time world champion Boston Celtics.

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