BOSTON — The House’s budget chief yesterday appeared to dash any hopes liberal Democrats and transportation activists might have of forcing legislative leaders back to the negotiating table with Gov. Deval Patrick over tax hikes, indicating $500 million was as high as House leaders are willing to go.
Making a late afternoon impromptu visit to the State House press gallery, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey said failure to pass the House and Senate leadership proposal dedicating $500 million in new revenue toward transportation would risk higher near-term MBTA fares and service cuts, jeopardize a $100 million increase in local road funding, and kill any discussion of expansion projects.
“We have looked at this and worked it and getting to a higher number does not appear at all likely and I think putting the $500 (million) at risk means it would be hard for us to go back at this, this year, certainly in time for the MBTA to have additional revenues to avoid fare increases and service reductions,” the Haverhill Democrat told reporters during a short discussion.
Addressing what he described as “speculation” about the level of support for the leadership plan in the House and Senate, Dempsey said lawmakers are eager to move on from the transportation financing debate and leadership is “unlikely” to reengage in negotiations with members or the governor over a bigger revenue package.
The comments seemed directed at Democrats supportive of components of Patrick’s $1.9 billion new revenue plan for education and transportation that might be considering voting against the smaller package, or mustering the votes to sustain a veto, in an effort to pass a larger tax bill than the one favored by legislative leaders.
“We are optimistic and hopeful that the support is there to pass the bill as proposed. We only point out that it’s going to be very, very challenging to do anything to get to a higher number so if folks are thinking about perhaps not supporting $500 (million) with the idea that that will put everyone back at the table, highly unlikely that that’s going to happen,” Dempsey said.