EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

June 26, 2013

Pols unveil compromise transportation bill

BOSTON (AP) — State House and Senate negotiators agreed late Tuesday on a bill that would raise $500 million in new revenue, including hikes in gasoline and cigarette taxes, to shore up the state’s aging and debt-ridden transportation system.

A six-member conference committee announced the compromise after closed-door talks over the last two months.

The House and Senate passed versions of the bill in the spring and the new bill now goes back to both chambers for up or down votes, possibly as early as Wednesday.

According to lawmakers, the measure would close a projected $118 million deficit facing the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in the fiscal year that starts on Monday, heading off any need for further fare hikes or service cuts on the transit system.

The legislation would also end the practice of borrowing to pay the salaries of state transportation workers and requires the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to formulate plans for putting tolls on additional state highways, including those near the borders of other states.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray called the compromise “a responsible and reasonable use of revenues” that would close a longstanding gap in transportation funding and support infrastructure improvements including expansion of the Green Line to Medford and commuter rail service to the South Coast.

“It does not offer a blank check to the Department of Transportation or the MBTA but instead holds the two agencies accountable for their own fiscal management and commitment to reform,” the Democratic leaders said.

A veto threat by Gov. Deval Patrick has hovered over the bill for months. In January, Patrick called for $1.9 billion in new taxes, including a hike in the state income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent. About $1 billion of the new revenue under the governor’s plan would have been dedicated to transportation.

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