Governor Patrick’s office released a new video and shinny web page touting the governor’s reform agenda on Friday to marginal fanfare. It doesn’t appear as if anyone is taking it very seriously and that is a shame because many of his ideas are fantastic. Patrick has not helped his cause with some questionable personnel decisions but that should not tarnish all of his proposals. Some of the ideas are smoke-and-mirrors but overall his proposed reforms should be adopted by the legislature, particularly pension reform. Unfortunately, some of these reforms are excuses to create new taxes. Any increase in taxes is unacceptable and should not be part of any reform legislation. The public needs to see real reforms in action before the government even thinks of demanding another penny from taxpayers.
Patrick is advocating reforms in five areas: transportation, pensions, ethics and lobbying, municipalities, and the budget.
The weakest part of his reform agenda is his proposed reforms for transportation. Governor Patrick proposes eliminating the Turnpike Authority and a merging of all transportation agencies all while keeping the current tolls in operation. This is troubling because the tolls were scheduled to come down before I was born and unfairly charge certain drivers. Any transportation reform package must include an elimination of the Turnpike Authority AND the tolls. He does call for the elimination of that absurd perk at the MBTA of a full pension after 23 years of service. I can’t think of anywhere in the private sector where such a perk exists. Patrick wants to save tax dollars by bringing the MBTA and Turnpike employee health care systems into the state system. This is a great move and one that should be replicated throughout all of state government.
The centerpiece of his transportation reform bill is a 19 cent increase in the gas tax and this is a non-starter. Reforms and tax increases should not be packaged together. The public cannot trust the government to manage our tax dollars properly so why should they feel any differently because of some promised reforms? Last fall there was talk of civilian flaggers replacing police details, a minor yet symbolic reform, and where are they?
Patrick, a darling of the progressive left, should note that an increase in the gas tax, just like an increase in the sales tax, will hurt the poor and less fortunate the most. People who have traded a longer commute for lower housing costs will be hit hard by an increase in the gas tax.
A more appropriate reform would be the repeal of the prevailing wage law. The prevailing wage law drives up the cost of all public projects, discriminates against specific businesses, and hurts taxpayers. Reports have found the law to increase the cost of public projects by as much as 34%. Conservative estimates put this increase at 22%. It is time to repeal the prevailing wage and move on from its racist past.
The Commonwealth should severely limit its transportation expansion projects until there is no longer a major backlog in deferred maintenance. This includes all areas of transportation, particularly the MBTA.
MassHighway should assume responsibility for all bridges and roadways under the authority of MassPort, MBTA, and the DCR. There is no need to have multiple agencies maintaining roads and bridges. One agency, MassHighway, is capable of handling this task.