Chip Ford's CLT Commentary
Isn't it amazing how municipalities that lose
Proposition 2½ overrides so often somehow,
somewhere find the money to keep on keeping on? Saugus, the voters
of which recently defeated another override, found money "because
last year's budget deficit was $1.1 million less than originally
"The state Department of Revenue has told Saugus it
must keep spending in line with revenues, or face possible intervention
in the form of a control board," the Boston Globe reported.
What happened to "Without an override the sky will
fall, we're all going to dieeeeee!"?
Then there's Randolph, the taxpayers of which weren't
intimidated by the "more people will die" mantra and rejected that
town's recent override. The fire chief even blamed the subsequent
deaths of two step-brothers on his department being undermanned and
The Boston Globe on May 27 reported ("Trying
to put a dollar value on fire safety"):
In the hours after the boys' deaths, Fire Chief
Charles D. Foley Jr. was quoted as saying that because of a
decreased budget, the department was understaffed, and the outcome
of the fire might have been different with more manpower on the
In March, town voters rejected a $4.16 million Proposition 2½
override. Of that, $108,000 would have been for the Fire Department.
Today the Boston Globe reported ("Chief suspended for
budget comments after fatal blaze"):
The independent hearing officer found that Foley
still had $100,000 in his overtime budget when the fire occurred and
that there was still funding for an additional firefighter.
So who is to blame, if anyone, for the two deaths in
that blaze? The fire chief was only $8,000 short of what he
claimed to need back in May before his town's override was defeated.
Why was he sitting on that surplus hundred thousand bucks -- that might
have saved those two lives?
The cry is up about average property tax increases
across the state: "Proposition 2½ isn't
working any more" it is claimed. But Prop 2½
hasn't changed since 1980 when the voters adopted it: No
municipality can increase its tax revenue more than 2.5 percent over the
previous year. So what is driving up property taxes?
As Barbara wrote in her
unpublished letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, partially this is
due to the most recent reevalution, performed a year or two ago when the
housing market value was still increasing, especially compared to the
business property market's decreasing value in
split-rate communities. This should adjust itself in the next
year, since home values have decreased.
The biggest cause for property
tax increases averaged statewide are the cities and towns who rally a
majority to vote for overrides, debt exclusions, CPA levies, etc.
Those who tax themselves more shouldn't be shocked when they receive
their increased property tax bills; nor will those be who campaigned
and/or voted against the increase but lost and knew it would come. Those who didn't
bother to vote -- well who cares if their property tax bills skyrocket
to their surprise and horror?
With so many municipal leaders
finding themselves unable to convince their voters to tax themselves
more, they're now turning to the state to impose higher state taxes to
turn over to them. How would any additional revenue be spent? Just as
been spent since the booming '90s and beyond: More perks,
pensions, and pay hikes for the public employee unions -- then when it's
gone again, they'll be
right back in lockstep looking for more.
State Sen. Steven Baddour
(D-Methuen) got it on the money yesterday,
literally, when he coined the acronym for the Massachusetts Municipal
Association (MMA) -- the lobby for member city and town administrators:
"More Money Always."
We at least must never forget
those Roaring '90s, and its "Embarrassment
of Riches - Towns rolling in cash" that helped dig us taxpayers into
this situation of municipal officials' creation, this attitude of
never-ending public employee
What's with Gov. Patrick, now
considering privatizing our highways and turnpikes? We've paid for
them how many times over now? They belong to taxpayers and
toll-payers a couple times over now, at least. Remember when the
Turnpike bonds were supposed to be paid off in the 80s -- only to have
more needless debt assumed so the tollbooths and jobs could be extended. Then came
the Big Dig, with toll-increases to fund that inevitable rip-off boondoggle too.
How much have we paid in gas
taxes, excise taxes, auto sales taxes, registry fees, etc. to fund roads
and highways and bridges during our lifetimes -- that seems to not have been used to
maintain much of anything we were promised would be maintained.
Now that what we paid for is finally crumbling in neglect -- "deferred
maintenance" is the official bureaucratese -- the governor wants to sell
them off -- lease them -- to private businesses who'll charge us more to
use OUR ROADS we bought and paid for a number of times!
But it'll get our state
government out from under its shadow of malfeasance and misfeasance in
the short term, before someone else is killed by the state's neglected
Is this the same state Senator I mentioned above or
his evil twin?
"I'm not fearful" of much of anything, boldly stated state Sen. Steven
A. Baddour, the Senate chairman of the Legislature's Joint
Transportation Committee. Why should he -- or any state legislator
-- be "fearful" of anything but crossing their leadership or
the unions? They'll
all be reelected, no matter what they do to us; they always are and have
come to expect it as a birthright.
“The taxpayers should be very concerned that
one-party government in Massachusetts is headed back in the same old
direction, back into their pocket,” House Minority Leader Bradley Jones
(R-North Reading) warned.
“There’s a concern amongst the taxpayers about getting value for the
dollar that is being asked of them or taken from them,” he said.
“And I don’t think there’s that level of confidence,” he added.
But Baddour and his henchmen are not fearful of
taxpayers, or of voters.
And so the march for higher taxes and tolls has
stepped off, the parade has begun down the usual route. It's time
for taxpayers to prepare the rotten eggs and tomatoes to toss as the
More Is Never Enough (MINE) parade again comes strutting along.
The Boston Globe - North edition
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Call for funding police, fire OT
Town official cites public safety gaps
By Kathy McCabe
Gaps in police and fire coverage in Saugus could ease if Special Town
Meeting voters approve up to $350,000 in overtime funds from new money
made available because last year's budget deficit was $1.1 million less
than originally estimated.
Town Manager Andrew R. Bisignani proposes increasing the police overtime
account by $150,000 or $200,000, and the Fire Department's account by
$150,000 to help improve staffing that has fallen below minimum
standards in each department.
"We have a crisis, particularly in the Police Department," Bisignani
said. The department doesn't have enough officers on the street, he
said. "It's a safety issue."
Bisignani said the extra $150,000 should allow the Essex Street Fire
Station to remain open until January. The station closed on Aug. 14 for
the first time this fiscal year, when staffing fell below the minimum
requirement. "It won't solve all the problems of either department," he
said. "But it will give them more money for overtime. Public safety is
Bisignani also proposes appropriating $150,000 for the Saugus school
system. This year's budget for the schools is $3 million less than last
An additional $100,000 would go to the town's unemployment compensation
account, which covers costs related to the layoffs of dozens of town
employees this fiscal year. Additional funds would go to other
departments, including public works, he said.
The new funding request will be presented Monday during Special Town
Meeting, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.
The town's Finance Committee was scheduled to review Bisignani's request
last night. "We'll make our recommendation to the Town Meeting," said
Robert Palleschi, the Finance Committee's chairman. "It's ultimately
The proposal is the latest attempt by Saugus to stabilize town finances.
The state Department of Revenue has told Saugus it must keep spending in
line with revenues, or face possible intervention in the form of a
control board. Voters in April rejected a $5.2 million property tax
increase. Town Meeting later rejected a trash fee proposal aimed at
increasing revenues. The result was widespread cuts to jobs and services
for the fiscal year that started July 1.
The cuts included four patrolmen and two firefighters, and sharply
reduced overtime funding for each department. Since then, both
departments have struggled to cover shifts. In the Police Department,
for example, staffing has fallen to four officers on duty, compared with
the required seven, Bisignani said.
"It's a safety issue that confronts us daily," he said. "They don't have
enough bodies to cover the shifts."
Lieutenant Michael Annese, a Police Department spokesman, and Fire Chief
James Blanchard could not be reached for comment.
Saugus originally expected to have a $3 million deficit for the fiscal
year that ended June 30. But healthcare costs went down in May and June,
and revenues went up in some accounts, such as permit fees. As a result,
the actual deficit for fiscal year 2007 was $1.9 million, Bisignani
The $1.1 million difference will be used to stabilize finances, and
increase appropriations, for the current fiscal year. Bisignani proposes
setting aside $400,000 to cover any deficits that could arise if local
receipts, such as building permit fees, fall short of projections, he
"I'd like us to be more conservative with our budget estimates,"
Bisignani said. "The economy is not going in a positive direction. There
is not a lot of building going on. The interest rates just dropped.
People are not buying new cars. . . . That all has an effect on our
Bisignani is not requesting any additional funding for the struggling
Saugus Public Library. "I have to prioritize," Bisignani said. "My
priority now is public safety."
Jean Bartolo, chairwoman of the library trustees, could not be reached
The library now is open 18½ hours per week,
after Town Meeting approved a sharply reduced figure, $277,271, for its
operations this year. The library director recently resigned, but an
interim director has been appointed, Bisignani said.
After voters rejected the tax increase this spring, the library was
closed to the public for six weeks while the staff prepared to mothball
the building and shut down completely on July 1. The temporary closing
prompted the state Board of Library Commissioners to revoke the
library's certification, which is required for the town to receive
library funds from the state.
The permanent closing was avoided when Town Meeting shaved enough money
from other town accounts to keep it open on a limited schedule.
Now the state board has told trustees that the library should be open
50.4 hours per week by Labor Day, or risk not qualifying for state grant
The commissioners also threatened to make Saugus repay the balance of a
$1 million state construction grant given to the town 10 years ago to
build the new library.
"They have to get their hours back up," said David Gray, spokesman for
the state Board of Library Commissioners. "If they hadn't actually
closed, they would not have been decertified and this would not be an
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Chief suspended for budget comments after fatal blaze
He said outcome may have differed with full staffing
By Milton J. Valencia
RANDOLPH - Fire chiefs from throughout the state came to support Fire
Chief Charles D. Foley Jr. during his disciplinary hearings this summer,
in part because they were baffled that he might be punished for
complaining about budget cuts after a blaze in which two half brothers
The chiefs were further surprised yesterday to learn that Foley has been
suspended for 15 days without pay for suggesting, following a deadly
fire in May, that the two could have been saved if the department was
Chiefs said they sympathized with Foley's cause because it was something
they could have done, knowing the emotions firefighters face when
someone dies on their watch and the frustrations they face with budget
"Every chief feels for Chief Foley," said Kenneth Willette, chief of the
Concord Fire Department and president of the Fire Chiefs Association of
"He's certainly a dedicated fire chief; he's certainly a firefighters'
fire chief," Willette said by telephone yesterday.
Randolph selectmen decided on the suspension Monday night, based on a
hearing officer's report that concluded that Foley had used the tragedy
to publicize his concerns about budget cuts.
The hearing officer also concluded that Foley inappropriately pushed a
newspaper article about the fire into the chest of Selectman James F.
Burgess Jr. a few hours after the fire.
Burgess, who sought the disciplinary hearing, said an independent
hearing officer was brought in to decide the outcome of the case without
accusations that politics were involved. Town officials hired Joseph E.
Coffey, who practices law in Marlborough and Boston, to conduct the
Burgess said the suspension was appropriate. "Chiefs have to understand
that they do answer to somebody," Burgess said. "You can't use a tragedy
to ask for an increase in your budget."
The disciplinary hearings held in July and August typified tensions that
often divide the public safety and public policy sectors of town
government. Fire chiefs said that they can best speak for the needs of
their departments and that Foley's comments were fueled by frustration
after the fatal fire.
"He was just doing anything we would have done, wishing we could have
done it better, wishing we could have had a more positive outcome," said
Weymouth Fire Chief Robert O'Leary.
Firefighters who were called to the single-family house on Union Street
in May fought back roaring flames before they could enter the building,
according to testimony during the hearings.
Six brothers, a cousin, and her infant son were asleep when the fire
broke out about 5 a.m. Most of the brothers fled the apartment after
smelling smoke. The cousin, a 21-year-old who had been left in charge,
threw her baby out a second-floor window onto a blanket and jumped to
Half-brothers Emmanuel Labranche, 17, and Valensky DuGuaran, 8, were
trapped inside the house and killed. One brother said after the fire
that firefighters had arrived by the time he fled the building, and that
there was time to save his brothers.
But Foley had said after the fire that a limited team of firefighters
responded at first and that their priority was to attack the flames that
obstructed them from entering the house.
Later, Foley held several press conferences at the scene in which he
decried budget cuts that had short-staffed his department. "I can't
promise you that there would have been a different outcome," Foley said
at the time. "All I can tell you is that the operation would have been
more enhanced by additional staffing."
Just three months earlier, Randolph voters had rejected a proposed
override that would have included $108,000 for the Fire Department.
The independent hearing officer found that Foley still had $100,000 in
his overtime budget when the fire occurred and that there was still
funding for an additional firefighter. Foley argued that the funding was
to be used during the upcoming summer weather, when vacation time
spikes. He also said he could not hire anyone at the time, given the
uncertainty over budget finances.
But Burgess said the chief has responsibility to make such decisions and
should not pass blame.
The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Property tax bills soar as services fall
Levies increase despite decline in home values
By Matt Carroll
Residential property taxes rose an average of $161 in cities and towns
across the state in the past fiscal year, as home assessments hit
historic highs despite declining market values.
The average property tax bill for a single-family home hit $3,962, up
4.2 percent from the previous year. Taxes climbed 7 percent or higher in
more than 65 communities, according to data from the state Department of
Since 2000, property taxes have shot up nearly 50 percent, from $2,679,
far outpacing gains in wages, which climbed 30 percent statewide over
the same period, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over
the past seven years, the average annual property tax hikes for
homeowners have ranged from about $150 to nearly $215.
Taxpayers are being asked to pay more at a time when they are seeing
local services decline, as cities and towns struggle to cover rising
healthcare, utility, and pension costs. It comes at a time when the
assessed value of their homes has begun to exceed the actual value,
because of the decline in the housing market.
This stems from the fact that the 2007 valuation is based on a January
2006 assessment, which reflects home values in 2005, when the market was
Paul Monahan, 83, of Dedham, a grandfather of 14, said he was stunned
when he saw that the tax bill for his two-story brick house on Abbott
Road had grown about $1,400, to $6,800.
"It was a bolt out of the blue," said the recreational golfer, who
recently almost shot his age at Norwood Country Club. "It really raises
your blood pressure. . . . My wife and I were simply astounded that they
would jack up our assessment to [$626,600] without even consulting us."
Monahan and his wife contested the bill and got an abatement of $853 on
their tax bill.
Monahan is not alone.
"I had a record number of abatement applications," said Pamela K. Davis,
the administrator of assessing in Fall River, where property taxes shot
up 14.1 percent.
She normally receives about 400 applications each year, but this year
received about 550 -- an increase of nearly 40 percent.
Statewide, property assessments for single-family homes climbed to
$406,673, crossing the $400,000 barrier for the first time. Average home
values have more than doubled between fiscal 2000, when they were
$185,009, and fiscal 2007, which ended June 30.
Home assessments averaged $1 million-plus in eight communities, up from
five last year. Chilmark, on Martha's Vineyard, topped the list, at $1.7
million. Others on the elite list were: Weston, Dover, Edgartown, and
Lincoln, as well as this year's newcomers -- West Tisbury,
Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Wellesley.
The average increase in taxes was relatively modest, but the overall
financial news is still tough to digest, said observers.
"There's a double whammy going on for homeowners," said Michael J.
Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. "There are
increasing residential property taxes on the one hand and cuts in local
services on the other."
"Each year, more cities and towns are facing a tighter squeeze. The
implication of holding town tax rates is to broaden cuts in programs and
services," resulting in layoffs of teachers and other municipal
employees, said Widmer.
The assessment and tax averages included about 340 of the state's 351
communities. A number of the largest communities, including Boston, were
not included because the single-family home taxes are computed
According to local assessors, taxes for single-family, owner-occupied
homes increased 12 percent in Boston, and between 2 percent and 3
percent in Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, and Waltham.
Eric Taieb of Brookline found himself staring at a tab just shy of
$15,000 when, months after paying $1.1 million for a home on Dean Road
in 2005, the assessment was raised to $1.7 million.
"That was quite a surprise," said the real estate appraiser, who
successfully sought abatements -- twice -- and knocked his taxes down
closer to $10,000.
"There isn't much you can do about it. I think it's just grin and bear
it," said Harold Galberg, 73, who lives in Dedham with his wife on
His wife, Priscilla, sought an abatement and got their tax bill reduced
More than three-quarters of the state's cities and towns raised their
property taxes in fiscal year 2007 to just under the limit allowed by
law, according to data from the Department of Revenue.
That is a significant increase from 2000, when about half of the
communities pushed close to the limit. Under Proposition 2½, communities
are constrained by how much they can raise property taxes. They can
raise the total amount of property taxes collected by a maximum of 2.5
percent each year, plus any additional taxes stemming from new
Many communities had raised less than they were allowed by law. But that
is changing because of financial pressure.
"Communities are essentially taxing up to the maximum level possible
under Proposition 2½ because they have no choice," said Geoffrey C.
Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association,
a nonprofit representing cities and towns.
Communities have been hard hit because they have received less state
aid, he said. Property taxes make up an increasingly greater proportion
of local revenues, climbing from about 50 percent to about 54 percent
now, he said.
Robert R. Bliss, a spokesman for the Department of Revenue, said the
numbers are a "strong argument" for supporting Governor Deval Patrick's
Municipal Partnership Act, which is an attempt to help communities
fiscally by saving money on pensions and healthcare and giving them new
tools for raising revenues.
State House News Service
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Municipal group says tax hikes,
revenue sharing talks should begin
By Michael P. Norton
Municipal leaders called on the Patrick administration Tuesday to join
them in starting a conversation about revenue sharing and raising state
taxes, citing rising local property taxes and the increasing difficulty
of providing basic local services needed to help fuel economic
“We need to raise revenues and we will stand with you in that important
effort,” Newton Mayor David Cohen, a member of the House when it raised
taxes in 1990, told Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and a gathering of mayors,
selectmen and school committee members today.
Murray told Cohen the administration’s “immediate focus” is on pressing
again for legislative approval of plans Patrick filed earlier this year
to raise corporate taxes and allow municipalities to collect new taxes
on meals and lodging and from telecommunications companies that
currently benefit from a property tax exemption.
After the meeting of the Local Government Advisory Council, Cohen said
Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) officials, given the beginning
of discussions on fiscal 2009 budget and revenue issues, want to discuss
the potential of raising taxes. “We think revenues need to be on the
table,” Cohen said.
Cohen said no specific tax is under review. The last major round of
state tax increases occurred in 2002.
The association called on the administration to get behind a plan in
which state budget writers would ramp up local aid until it accounted
for 40 percent of annual tax revenues. After that, 40 percent of the
growth in state tax revenues would be set aside for municipal services,
including education. MMA Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith said Gov.
Patrick voiced support for revenue sharing while running for governor
Beckwith said the association isn’t calling for higher state taxes, but
feels the situation demands a discussion because the MMA believes better
funded local services will lead to more investment and improved quality
“We aren’t putting a number, or a tax or even saying it’s necessary,”
said Beckwith, also a former state lawmaker. “But the answer isn’t just
to allow unfettered property tax increases. We are increasing people’s
taxes at the local level and that’s creating a problem. A lot of this is
about overall broad tax policy.”
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones (R-North Reading) said that while
Democrats on Beacon Hill are floating a range of new expensive public
policy proposals, residents want to make sure that basic investments in
public education and affordable housing are made. “The taxpayers should
be very concerned that one-party government in Massachusetts is headed
back in the same old direction, back into their pocket,” said Jones.
“There’s a concern amongst the taxpayers about getting value for the
dollar that is being asked of them or taken from them,” Jones added.
“And I don’t think there’s that level of confidence.”
Municipal officials told Murray that Property 2½ tax override votes are
a sign of problems because when overrides pass, local residents feel the
burden of property tax increases and when they fail, local services are
cut back. “The fact is the system isn’t working,” said Gerald Wasserman,
a Needham selectman.
After Murray told local officials the administration would continue to
push for new revenue options outlined in Patrick’s Municipal Partnership
Act and asked for their support pushing those stalled tax plans, Cohen
described the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new
revenues as “critically important.” He said local property taxes rose 7
percent this year and $100 million in tax overrides were put on the
ballot, with $31 million okayed.
Referencing Murray’s request for support of Municipal Partnership Act
tax provisions, Cohen told Murray, “I mentally made a note of ‘taxes.’ ”
Murray later told Cohen, “You read into my remarks.”
Rep. John Binienda (D-Worcester), House chairman of the Legislature’s
Committee on Revenue, said new taxes are “not an easy sell.” While
“revenues are always on the table,” Binienda emphasized that the state
is delivering record amounts of local aid while also trying to
adequately fund an array of programs in the $26.8 billion state budget
that are important to senior citizens and individuals with mental
illness or mental retardation.
“Unfortunately, we’re the state government, not the federal government,”
Binienda said. “We can’t print money.”
Binienda said state government had “bailed out all 351 cities and towns”
with local aid. “We’ve got our own problems,” he said. “We’re going to
have to look seriously at raising state revenue just to balance what
we’re going to need to do just to come up with a 27 or 28 billion-dollar
While municipal officials say they’ve never recovered from local aid
cuts that followed the recession earlier this decade, Binienda said,
“The state has been more than generous and more than an equal partner
with every single city and town in the state. They have to realize that
what they should be doing right now is saying ‘Thank you House of
Representatives. Thank you state Senate for what you have done for each
and every one of us since 1981, 1982.’ That’s what they should be doing.
They should be thanking us.”
At a separate hearing, top legislators had scalded the MMA for what they
said was its endless thirst for revenue. Sen. Steven Baddour cracked
that the acronym stood for "More Money Always." His Transportation
Committee co-chair, Rep. Joseph Wagner, said of the association's
request for more funding for cities and towns, "The entitlement
mentality just amazes me. It's gimme, gimme, gimme."
Sen. Steven Panagiotakos (D-Lowell), chairman of the Senate Ways and
Means Committee, responded to inquiries with an emailed quote. “We are
certainly committed to maintaining an open dialogue and exchanging ideas
with our partners in municipal government as we move forward in
developing the FY09 state budget,” said Panagiotakos. “Before even
putting income tax options on the table, we owe it to the citizens of
the Commonwealth to examine and consider all our options when looking
new sources of revenue."
Beckwith said revenue sharing may have been cast aside in budget talks
earlier this year because Patrick had just taken office and was faced
with a $1 billion budget gap. “That budget gap has been closed and now
we’re looking forward,” Beckwith said.
During the council meeting, school committee officials pressed Murray to
address complaints that charter schools are drawing money away from
traditional public schools. Murray said the administration earlier this
year was pressed for time in putting together its fiscal 2008 budget
plan, but has more time to prepare its fiscal 2009 budget, which will be
filed in January. “We are going to take a real look at the charter
school funding formula,” he said.
The Boston Herald
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Deval eyes road to lea$ing
More tolls on way if private companies take over
By Casey Ross
Gov. Deval Patrick is launching a detailed examination of options for
leasing the state’s cash-starved bridges and roads to private companies,
a move that critics fear could expose motorists to crippling toll hikes,
the Herald has learned.
Patrick’s budget office is seeking to hire a financial company to
analyze the impact of privatizing transportation facilities as part of a
broader review of the state’s massive, $19 billion transportation
funding deficit, according to state documents.
If approved, a deal to privatize could mean leasing the Massachusetts
Turnpike, Tobin Bridge or Big Dig tunnels to for-profit companies that
would pay billions of dollars for the right to collect tolls from
motorists for their use. Under such arrangements, the company leasing
the road or bridge is responsible for its operation and maintenance. A
Patrick spokesman said the governor will consider privatization as part
of a “top to bottom” effort to find savings and efficiencies in
transportation agencies. Any such proposal would provoke fierce
resistance from labor unions.
“This administration inherited 16 years of neglect of our roads and
bridges, and it would be irresponsible if we didn’t look at every aspect
of the financing of our transportation system,” spokesman Kyle Sullivan
But critics raised concerns that privatization -- which would provide a
badly needed cash infusion almost immediately -- could also lead to
sharp toll increases without public approval. They say private companies
would be primarily motivated by their bottom lines, not the interests of
“It may look great up front, but taxpayers can get left holding the bag
down the road,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading).
He said private partnerships can offer significant financial benefits,
but the state would have to be extremely careful about evaluating such
In some states, deals to privatize highways have led to huge cost
increases for commuters. In Indiana, for example, a deal to privatize
that state’s toll road led to a 100 percent up-front toll hike, and the
possibility of 7 percent annual increases over the life of a 75-year
Officials in Pennsylvania have also faced sharp criticism over the
potential cost of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private
company. Like Massachusetts, officials in that state are trying to close
a massive transportation funding gap by considering plans to erect new
tolls or privatize public assets.
The Boston Globe
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
New revenue sought for roads, bridges
Lawmakers consider gas tax, added tolls
By Ryan Haggerty
Two key legislative leaders said yesterday that the state must consider
all options, including putting toll booths on Interstate 93 and raising
the gasoline tax, to help pay for billions of dollars in necessary
repairs to the state's transportation system over the next 20 years.
New revenue streams, combined with savings derived from cost-cutting
measures such as the possible merger of some transportation agencies,
are needed to prevent further deterioration of the state's highways,
bridges, and tunnels, said Senator Steven A. Baddour, Democrat of
Methuen, the Senate chairman of the Legislature's Joint Transportation
"I think everything needs to be on the table as we go forward," Baddour
said yesterday after questioning leaders of various state transportation
agencies at a hearing on the condition of the state's bridges. "I'm not
fearful of a discussion on some of these controversial issues. I'm not
fearful of a discussion on merging departments. I'm not fearful of
having a discussion on merging the [Massachusetts Turnpike] with [the
state Highway Department]. . . . I'm not fearful about having a
discussion about tolls on [Interstate] 93 or a gas tax."
Legislators' willingness to consider all options may be a sign that
there is growing political support for exploring new methods of raising
revenue on Beacon Hill, where there has been a strong antitax, antitoll
sentiment. Since Governor Deval Patrick's victory last November,
Democrats have also worked diligently to deflect Republican accusations
that their domination at the State House would inevitably lead to higher
State Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Democrat of Chicopee and House
chairman of the Transportation Committee, said that collecting new tolls
and increasing the gas tax should be last resorts, but said they cannot
be ruled out, given the maintenance bills the state is facing.
"We cannot and should not lead with gas taxes and tolls," Wagner said.
"I don't think the public would be accepting of that. I would not be
accepting of that. That said, there isn't anything that should not be on
the table for discussion."
In comments made following the hearing, Transportation Secretary Bernard
Cohen did not specifically address new tolls or a gas tax increase, but
said that the Patrick administration is "looking at a variety of ways to
provide additional funds for transportation."
"I think everybody is now convinced that we need the revenue, that we
need to support our infrastructure," Cohen said.
Wagner and Cohen said that privatization of portions of the state's
transportation network is also within the realm of possibility.
"If we were to determine that something could be fashioned in a way that
could be a benefit to the citizens of the Commonwealth who pay taxes,
then we have an obligation to look at those things," Wagner said.
Concern over the financial future of the state's transportation agencies
was heightened in March, when the bipartisan Transportation Finance
Commission reported that the system will need nearly $20 billion in
maintenance and repairs over the next 20 years. Last month, the need for
action was further heightened after a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed,
triggering yesterday's hearing and a review of the weak spots in the
state's bridge system.
Coming up with the money necessary to catch up on repairs and replace
outdated structures will be difficult, Baddour said.
"I'm not sure we can commit to anything at this point," he said, adding
that a second report expected to be released by the commission soon to
help lawmakers determine how to raise the funds. "There might be ways of
getting creative in terms of reforms and other alternatives. It's going
to be difficult, but . . . this Legislature is ready to take this issue
Transportation officials who testified at the hearing made it clear that
the funding shortfall is forcing their agencies to perform only basic
maintenance on bridges and other infrastructure.
Twenty-seven of the 482 bridges operated statewide by the Turnpike
Authority are structurally deficient, said Mary Jane O'Meara, the
authority's executive director. The designation does not mean that the
bridges are dangerous or at risk of imminent collapse, but that they
need monitoring and repairs.
"Over the years, that number has gone up steadily, as the turnpike's
needs outpaced available resources," O'Meara said at the hearing.
"Maintaining this level of care is proving harder and harder, especially
as we begin to deal with the capital needs of the Central Artery."
Under a schedule approved in the late 1990s, tolls are tentatively
scheduled to rise on Jan. 1 from $1 to $1.25 at the Allston and Weston
booths and from $3 to $3.75 at the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels to
help cover about $1.4 billion in Big Dig debt. Turnpike Authority
officials acknowledged last month, however, that tolls may go up even
more to help the authority cover escalating payments on debt,
maintenance, and Fast Lane discounts. A series of public hearings will
be held this fall before officials make a formal recommendation to the
The state Highway Department, which is responsible for inspecting 4,411
bridges statewide, found that 508 of the bridges, or 12 percent, were
structurally deficient on Sept. 1, said Luisa Paiewonsky, highway
department commissioner. The average is about even with the national
average, Paiewonsky said.
"We are concerned about the condition of our bridges, but not alarmed
about their safety," Cohen said. "Massachusetts bridges are safe, but
many of them need to be fixed."
Maintenance costs are devouring 95 percent of the Massachusetts Bay
Transportation Authority's annual capital budget, up from 77 percent
five years ago, said Daniel A. Grabauskas, the MBTA's general manager.
MBTA officials estimate that they would have to spend at least $550
million a year for the next 20 years to achieve a systemwide "state of
good repair," Grabauskas said at the hearing.
Instead, the MBTA spends about $450 million to $470 million a year to
maintain its infrastructure, he said.
"One of the depressing aspects of my job is to realize that even
spending half a billion dollars a year . . . we're barely keeping pace
to keep the level of maintenance that we have today," Grabauskas said at
the hearing. ". . . I need to continue to spend just to maintain the
level of, in some cases, disrepair that we have today."
"That's a striking statement -- to maintain the level of disrepair,"
Wagner said. "That's a stunning statement."
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