The Patrick Administration unveiled its much-anticipated transportation plan today, and made sure there were some mayors on hand to provide local/regional support. The plan seems to be to sell the idea of the need for spending lots of money -- and make sure there are plenty of benefits for everyone to find something to like -- and then follow up with the unpopular discussion of how to pay for it. That will come first in broad strokes, in this week's State of the Commonwealth address, and then in detailed form in the Governor's budget proposal next week.
If all goes well for Patrick, the debate will be over how to raise the needed revenue -- a fight he's perfectly willing to lose -- rather than whether to raise revenue.
I think they feel pretty confident that the citizenry are very much in favor of spending money on maintenance and upgrades, in the abstract, and by lumping a lot of pieces together it remains largely abstract, and thus popular. I think that's probably correct. It might be tough to sell the somewhat complicated (but important) desire to move DOT expenses onto the operating budget; or to sell a specific cost for the I-91 viaduct project in Springfield (they have cars way out there???); or even the expense of new Red Line cars. But throw them all together, add a bucket of Chaptert 90 money for the municipalities, and stick a nice roundish price tag of around a billion dollars a year, and there's an awful lot to like.
If it goes smoothly, with the legislature mostly receptive to the big picture but offering a different revenue mix, this could be a big win not only for Patrick and the state, but for the state's Democrats. That's because the Massachusetts Republicans are almost guaranteed to go apoplectic over the revenue increases, which will make them look like they want the state's transportation systems to crumble and rot -- while still sucking massive amounts of taxpayer money down with them. I would suggest that Republican candidates for governor and other offices -- maybe even in the upcoming US Senate race -- could pay a price.
But that's if it goes smoothly. It's also possible that the state legislature will want to steer very far clear of any revenue-increase votes, which would lead to their critiquing of the administration's claims of the need behind the plan. And that, in turn, would legitimize the GOP's position -- and then maybe it will be the Democratic candidates in trouble for supporting the boondoggle.
Speaker DeLeo has indicated, pretty strongly, that he's on the governor's side in principle -- that we need a major transportation plan, this year, that will inevitably include revenue increases of some kind. That's a bit of a surprise to me, and a very good sign (if it holds) for Patrick that the debate will be over how, not whether.
Signs have not been as strong from Senate President Murray. I don't know how to read that. Keep a close eye for reaction to the plan from her and other senators.