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The Download: Reform before revenue resurrected

Posted in: Transportation   Massachusetts Legislature   Current Affairs
Tags: The Download



Another hearing, another round of mea culpas from Bay State transportation officials. This past winter’s commuter rail problems set the stage for Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan to put a new label on problems facing the debt-ridden sector when he told the Transportation Committee on Tuesday that the state’s transportation assets were “undercapitalized” to the tune of about $1 billion.

Rep. William Straus, the House committee chairman, guessed that that the plain English translation was that the department did not have enough money.

“That’s correct,” Mullan told lawmakers before retreating behind the now infamous (or “meaningless”) slogan first put forth by the Senate president, Therese Murray.  “We are squarely in the reform phase of the reform before revenue phase,” Mullan declared.

Lawmakers took advantage of that segue to veer away from the perpetually uncomfortable subject of undercapitalization and toward ways to continue the “conversation” with the public about their “needs, wants, and haves” when it comes to transportation.

That left Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, and Rep Carl Sciortino, a Medford Democrat, to sound the only discordant notes about the system’s financial plight and the inability of the Legislature to confront it.

Since voting to give the MBTA regular annual appropriations, state lawmakers have yet to propose any ideas about revenue streams that would relieve the authority’s debt load or help patch up any other sector of the rapidly deteriorating transportation network.

What will another round of conversations about the problems facing mass transit, highways, or regional airports reveal that the Transportation Finance Commission, David D’Alessandro, or a succession of transportation secretaries have yet to undercover?

Lawmakers, state officials, and commuters won’t solve the problem of undercapitalization by continuing to resurrect well-known issues. Only an infusion of additional funding will make a solid difference. Unfortunately, “Reform before revenue” has become the new shorthand for inaction on the Massachusetts transportation finance crisis.

                                                                                                                                                                      --GABRIELLE GURLEY 



BEACON HILL

Gov. Deval Patrick’s book tour takes him to the set of Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.”  Howie Carr has his say on the gubernatorial memoir, and the Boston Herald wraps up its three-part series on what Patrick left out of his book with a piece on the governor’s prickly relationship with the Beacon Hill press corps.

Treasurer Steve Grossman prods the Legislature on pension reform, and then hears one lawmaker channel Charlie Sheen.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

WBUR’s Radio Boston looks at recycling, and what can be done to improve programs in Boston and other cities.

The Scarlet $? Weymouth officials, looking at $3.8 million in delinquent property taxes, will post on the Internet the names of property owners who are in arrears and the town will sell off the liens to investors as well.

The Berkshire Eagle argues that the family of the North Adam mayor should be allowed to deal with his wife’s shoplifting arrest in Florida privately. But The North Adams Transcript wants to hear more about an alleged shoplifting offense at a local Walmart.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

At a speech at Bristol Community College in Fall River yesterday, US Rep. Barney Frank said military spending is out of control and defense funding is getting a free pass while Congress guts health, education, and public safety budgets.

In a deficit-reduction speech, President Obama is expected to line up behind an outside commission he created last year, as well as Sen. Mark Warner’s gang of six. Both approaches would pair spending cuts with new revenues. One other option: Letting taxes rise as they’re currently scheduled to.

John Boehner gets back into the cat-herding business.

The top job at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau remains open, as likely picks fear stepping on the toes of the commission’s creator, Elizabeth Warren.

ELECTION 2012

It’s wicked easy to find the paper trail confirming Obama was born in Hawaii, not Kenya, and therefore Donald Trump is getting soaked by the birther investigators on his payroll, who are more than likely just sipping cocktails on some sunny beach, Joshua Green argues.

The MetroWest Daily News weighs in on Mitt Romney’s recent announcement on establishing an exploratory committee.

UNIONS

The National Review’s Katrina Trinko says Wisconsin could be the killing field for unions if workers take advantage of the law that makes union dues optional.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A proposal to mandate paid sick time for all workers in Massachusetts has won backing from the Patrick administration. but faces strong opposition from some advocates for small businesses and retailers.

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy, who has beaten the drum to get more transparency and less dogma injected into the debate over global payments, cites Pippin Ross’s article in the new issue of CommonWealth as further evidence that we can’t take industry pronouncements at face value.

The mentally ill languish in hospital emergency rooms for days before they get help, WBUR reports.

The Pioneer Institute’s Joshua Archambalt faults the state’s health care Connector in a Herald op-ed column.

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA officials vow to improve dramatically the woeful performance of the system’s commuter rail lines. One possible solution to improve the performance of the MBTA commuter rail lines, floated by state transportation secretary Jeffrey Mullan, would  be to extend the length of the T’s commuter rail contract.

Another setback for the T. An engineering consultant says a quick fix of the Annisquam River railroad drawbridge in Gloucester is no longer possible and the bridge needs to be replaced, the Gloucester Times reports.

Last week’s Washington budget compromise doesn’t just cut future federal mass transit spending; it also claws back some appropriations that had already been approved.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new law requires California to purchase one-third of all its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Camp Bad News: More people are coming forth alleging they were sexually abused at the Cape Cod summer camp that US Sen. Scott Brown attended as a child, the Globe reports.

A Salem woman who withheld chemotherapy from her autistic son is found guilty of attempted murder and three other counts, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Attorney Wendy Murphy discusses the case with Jim Braude on NECN’s Broadside.

The video slot machines at convenience stores that Attorney General Martha Coakley is clamping down on – and which CommonWealth writes about in our new spring issue -- are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gambling operations in the Bay State, where casinos are supposedly illegal.

The Worcester Telegram has a lengthy follow-up on a CommonWealth story about a state Appeals Court lawyer who lost his job and his license to practice law for six months for launching a business where he wrote term papers for students.

Brockton School Committee members are livid after School Superintendent Matthew Malone said criminal background checks had not been performed on teachers or other staffers in the last three years despite a state mandate. The revelation comes in the wake of a tutor who has been charged with raping an elementary school student.

MEDIA

The Globe is outsourcing its comment moderation to a Winnipeg firm in an effort to be more diligent in removing offensive and potentially libelous comments. Dan Kennedy has the memo at Media Nation.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING AT THE ZOO

A task force has recommended a plan to allow the Buttonwood Zoo in New Bedford to expand to allow it to keep its elephants as well as add some new exhibits.


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