State House News Service
Thursday, February 3, 2000
Big Dig Cost Hike Renewing Lawmakers' Opposition
to Major Tax Cuts
By Trevor Hughes
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 2, 2000 ... Lawmakers skeptical of Gov. Paul Cellucci's
$1.4 billion income tax cut and a plan to provide $600 million in tax breaks to toll
payers say a newly announced $1.4 billion hike in the Big Dig's price tag makes tax cuts
and toll credits even more unaffordable.
"What was already a reckless proposal really ought to be rethought,"
Senate President Thomas Birmingham (D-Chelsea) told a group of real estate developers this
morning. "The Free the Pike referendum is absolutely irresponsible."
Added House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Sullivan (D-Braintree):
"I think the citizens of the commonwealth are wise enough to look at the figures and
understand that a sizable tax reduction at this time ... just doesn't add up."
And state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien said: "What I think we need to do is make
sure we take care of our existing obligations ... before we look to any new, broad-based
For years, lawmakers and Wall Street bond rating agencies have said the state
lacks a comprehensive plan to pay for the Big Dig, which is being built with federal,
state and local tax dollars, and toll revenues. Today, O'Brien and Sullivan reiterated
those calls, and said they look forward to hearing an answer in the next week from
Turnpike Authority Chairman James Kerasiotes, who is managing the Big Dig.
Cellucci officials say Kerasiotes has project costs under control. They say cost
increases will be paid for by the Turnpike, and that tax cut opponents are simply using
new information t support old arguments. Toll-rebate backers said the overrun will
give impetus to their plan because drivers are sick of being used as "an unlimited
credit card" since the federal government began cutting back on highway funds for
Massachusetts. Both cuts are expected to go before voters in November.
Big Dig officials say Boston-area tolls may have to double next year, a year ahead
of schedule, to keep funds flowing to the project while it enters its most intensive
construction phase. Begu in the early 1980s, and originally estimated to cost about
$3 billion, the Big Dig is burying I-93 through the heart of Boston. Many lawmakers
believe the project is consuming money that would otherwise be spent on projects in their
"Nobody has ever said that the Big Dig was going to be a set price. This
isn't like going in and buying a television set," said Cellucci spokesman John
Birtwell said. "It's been known for some time that's there been a need for some cost
adjustments, probably upward. This should have no effect on the bottom line of the state
budget. The Turnpike Authority has indicated they are able to pay for the Big Dig."
During his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Cellucci touted the advantages of better
traffic flows and repeatedly said the Big Dig would be completed in 2004 "on time and
on budget." The official project price tag was set at $10.8 billion for several years
-- and was still listed at that level on its web site this morning. And as recently as
December, Big Dig officials told Wall Street bond rating agencies that "project costs
remain stable" at $10.8 billion.
The price tag is going up after a preliminary internal review found higher
construction costs due to unexpected snags in burying the heavily traveled road through
the middle of a busy city Sullivan said the Legislature has about a year to solve
the cost crunch. He made his position clear: Big Dig managers, not the taxpayers or toll
payers, are responsible for making up the cost increase.
"I think it's too simplistic at this time to say that we can have no form of
tax reduction because we have to pay for the cost of the Central Artery. That's rewarding
cost overruns and shifting the responsibility onto the Commonwealth," Sullivan said.
"I want a series of steps offered to the Legislature. I'm not looking for a simple
"We are heavily invested in this project. There's no U-turn on the Central
Artery. But to reward the Central Artery by just ... paying off the supposed cost overruns
is not the route we ought to take, either," Sullivan added. "Will we assist?
Yes. But we're not going to pay the entire cost. We need the Turnpike to work with the
legislature in developing a plan."
Added House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Haley (D-Weymouth): "We've
been concerned for some time that there hasn't been identified enough permanent financing
for not only the Central Artery, but all the other projects that are needed. We'll be
anxious to see how they manage this. It's the administration's responsibility to create a
funding strategy that works."
Sullivan said options range from raising tolls sooner than expected, to leasing or
selling unused 'Pike-owned land, and forcing Big Dig contractors to cut their own costs.
And Haley has long favored reinstating driver registration fees to help pay for the
Long-time anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson took
the fretting with a grain of salt. "It's hard for us to understand why they weren't
prepared for (cost increases) when anybody could have told them it would cost at least $12
billion," she said. "They have chosen not to prepare for the consequences of
their own lies. That has nothing to do with our income taxes."
The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 3, 2000
A Boston Herald Editorial
Users should pay new Big Dig costs
Harvard Pilgrim's cost discovery syndrome must be catching. The Big Dig has found
a bundle of unexpected costs too.
The Central Artery Project says it'll cost $1.4 billion more than expected to
finish, making the total not $10.8 billion but $12.2 billion.
Opponents of the income tax rate cut backed by Gov. Paul Cellucci no doubt will
seize on the new estimate as an argument to keep what's left of the "temporary"
rate increase (and that's four-fifths of it) enacted in 1989.
Failure to enact the rate cut has been, and will continue to be, an act of bad
faith by the Legislature. The assertion of public control over our ever-grasping lawmakers
is more importan than ease of financing the Big Dig. If it weren't the Big Dig, it
would be something else thrown up in argument to keep the money on Bacon Hill.
Jim Kerasiotes, Massachusetts Turnpike and Big Dig czar, says the planned
increases in harbor tunnel, Pike Extension and Tobin Bridge tolls may have to be brought
forward to 2001 from 2002. So be it.
If cash needs in the next fiscal year are going to be so crushing, why not bring
forward the toll increases all the way to July 1 this year? Further increases may be
necessary later; the public should be prepared for them as well.
It is much to be preferred, from the point of view of both fairness and economic
efficiency, that motorists in a position to use it pay for extra costs of the Big Dig, not
taxpayers from the Cape to the Berkshires and committed users of public transportation.
State House News Service
Tuesday, February 1, 2000
Tax Cut Proposals Threaten Likelihood of
New Mass211 Service
By Elisabeth J. Beardsley
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 1, 2000 ... Sen. Stanley Rosenberg today warned
advocates that the specter of a tax cut trio on the November ballot could
"temper" lawmakers' enthusiasm for creating a new statewide social service
The Massachusetts 211 Task Force hosted a forum at the State House to pitch its
proposal for a new statewide service referral system. As envisioned, people could dial
"211" to get information about a variety of state programs and services.
Rosenberg, who attended the forum and then was asked to comment, said the proposal
"obviously makes some sense." But he said the "bad news" is that three
tax cuts worth nearly $2 billion combined appear destined for the ballot. The proposals
reduce the income tax and provide tax deductions for turnpike tolls and charitable
"If the major ballot question goes through, rolling back the income tax ...
there's going to be a dramatic impact on our revenues," said Rosenberg (D-Amherst).
"We're looking at a very challenging budget process this year, so, uh, good luck and
keep in touch."
Advocates estimate the system would cost about $2 million per year, not including
start-up costs. The individual United Way organizations in the state, which operate 15
comprehensive referral services, currently spend between $500,000 and $750,000 per year.
Under 211, Unite Way would continue spending that amount, then ask the state to kick
in $1.5 million per year.
The Mass211 system is modeled on similar systems already in place in Georgia and
Connecticut, and in the planning stages in about 40 other states. Like 911 for emergency
services, advocates say 211 serves as the "gateway" to social services.
Sandra Courtney, an information and resource specialist with Webster-based
Tri-Valley Elder Services Inc., said the average person is bewildered by the vastness of
state government, and doesn't know what services are available or where to call to find
"Anyone who's answered the phones for an informal referral service knows that
at least three or four times a week, the response to 'Can I help you?' is 'God, I hope so
-- I've already called four, five, six other places before I got you,'" Courtney
said. "A lot of people don't make it that far. They give up before they find
Under the 211 proposal, the 15 comprehensive referral services would be
consolidated into six or eight regional "hubs." Jean Strock, vice president of
community services for the United Way of Central Massachusetts, said the 15 centers
receive over 100,000 calls per year.
"Our vision for 211 is that there be an easy, three-digit number for people
to access the services they need," said Strock, who is also the co-chairman of the
211 task force.
Trained specialists -- who could help identify all the services people need, not
just the initial request -- would staff the 24-hour hubs. Massachusetts Association of
Information and Referra Services President Lucretia Hudzinski said a woman may call
looking for a domestic violence shelter, but, after questioning, the caller may realize
she also needs and may qualify for child care and health insurance.
"We know how to ask the pertinent questions," Hudzinski said.
"Sometimes it's the second question we ask that gets at what they really need."
Representatives of some state agencies raised questions about how the system would
work. Glenn Daly, director of the Youth Development Collaboration Project at the Executive
Office of Health and Human Services, said he was concerned about handling emergency
"We'd be concerned that somebody calling in to report child abuse, this is
another level they'd have to go through to get to where they make a report," Daly
said. Supporters said that i "extreme cases," the 211 system would be able
to patch calls directly through to 911.
Christopher Coyle, administrative supervisor for client services at the state
Office on Disability, asked what kind of data would be collected on callers, and how
privacy would be protected.
Mass211 Executive Coordinator David Voegele said the proposal includes an
information referral "bill of rights" that contains a clause stipulating
"confidential and anonymous services." In most cases, 211 operators would gather
the person's age, town of residence and income level, and only ask for more information if
"we need to get someone to their door," Voegele said.
United Way of Tri-County President Paul Mina, who also serves as the president of
the Council of United Ways, described 211 as a "no-brainer," but said supporters
may have to revise the proposal to address lawmakers' budget concerns.
"There are things you wish for, hope for and pray for, and then there are
things that are reality," Mina said. "The reality of the situation is we're
probably going to have to do some tweaking to make this acceptable to the legislative
Despite a year of planning, legislation creating Mass211 has not yet been filed.
Task force members are scheduled to appear tomorrow at 10 am before the Department of
Telecommunications and Energy to request that the 211 code be officially designated for
the proposal. Supporters said today that they expect a decision from DTE in about two