BOSTON - MetroWest lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have long found common ground in fighting toll increases, but a Republican-sponsored Commuter Bill of Rights is becoming a point of contention between the parties.
MetroWest lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, have long found common ground in fighting toll increases, but a Republican-sponsored Commuter Bill of Rights is becoming a point of contention between the parties.
Minority leaders state Sen. Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, and Rep. Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, will file the non-binding joint resolution later this week in advance of a Transportation Finance Commission report that may recommend increasing the gasoline tax, higher rush-hour tolls, or imposing tolls on Interstate 93 to fund transportation debt.
Earlier this year the commission reported a $19 billion backlog of unfunded state transportation projects.
Republicans including Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, are asking their colleagues to vote on a promise to commuters - a pledge that the Legislature will not raise tolls or the gas tax before exhausting alternative funding and cost-cutting measures.
``Before we talk about raising taxes and increasing tolls, we have to talk about streamlining,'' said Brown who estimated that placing the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority under the Highway Department would save about $300 million. ``I would think that a fair amount of (Democrats) would agree. Everybody drives the same roads that I drive, and I don't think the fact that I'm a Republican makes them any worse.''
Jones and Tisei estimated the state will save more than $100 million annually in administrative expenses by adopting a package of bills they plan to file. The legislation would merge the Turnpike Authority with MassHighway, merge Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority police with the state police, and move highway employee salaries under the operating budget rather than borrowing through the capital budget.
Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, called the resolution well-intentioned, but stressed the need for statewide revenue solutions, such as a gas tax increase, to keep MetroWest commuters from emptying their wallets on the turnpike.
``While I totally agree that the state of our roadways is generally poor, that is a direct result of 16 years of Republican administrations who wasted taxpayers' and toll payers' dollars at an unprecedented rate,'' he said. ``We would all like to have something for nothing, but I can't agree with something that says we should have great roads and in the next breath says we shouldn't have to pay for them.''
Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, said he was unmoved by the bill of rights, which also pledges accountability for infrastructure problems, and a commuter's right to travel on safe roads, tunnels and bridges.
``I'm not interested in resolutions, I'm interested in solutions. I'm not interested in things that are public relations documents,'' said Fernandes, who will wait for the commission's report to take a position on revenue proposals. ``There is no worse issue for us to be playing politics with. ... It is going to be, if not the most important, one of the top couple of issues that we are going to have to deal with in this session and the coming sessions.''
Turnpike Authority Board Member Mary Connaughton of Framingham said she expected the commission to release its report before the authority's Sept. 17 board meeting.
Wes Ritchie, aide to Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, said the legislator was flattered that Republican leadership was adopting the spirit and name of his bill of rights for commuter rail passengers.
``Rep. Sannicandro believes transportation is vital to economic growth and transportation reliability is key to that growth, which is why he's been leading on reliable public transportation in MetroWest from the commuter rail system to reducing the burden of tolls on MetroWest residents,'' Ritchie said.
MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News Staff Writer Lindsey Parietti can be reached at email@example.com.