Mass. lawmakers override transportation vetoBy STEVE LeBLANC , Associated Press
Jul. 24, 2013 5:59 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — Taxes on gasoline and cigarettes are set to increase after Massachusetts lawmakers voted to override Gov. Deval Patrick's veto of a transportation financing bill.
The bill contains a 3 cent-per-gallon hike in the gas tax and would index future increases in the tax to inflation. It also raises the cigarette tax $1 per pack and imposes the state sales tax on computer software and services.
The taxes take effect in seven days.
Patrick had vetoed the bill after lawmakers rejected his demand to add a provision allowing for an additional gas tax hike if tolls on the western portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike come down as scheduled in 2017.
The House voted 123-33 to override Patrick's veto. The Senate voted 35-5 to override.
The bill, which calls for $500 million in new taxes, seeks to pump billions of dollars into the state's transportation network over the next decade, allowing the state to modernize its aging infrastructure and jumpstart stalled projects including the expansion of commuter rail to the South Coast.
The legislation would end the practice of borrowing to pay salaries of state transportation workers and close the MBTA's $115 million deficit, heading off another round of fare increases or service reductions.
Patrick argues that the bill's financing doesn't account for the scheduled loss of toll revenue.
The fate of those tolls is uncertain, said House Speaker Robert DeLeo. He said he didn't think it was likely that the tolls would come down as scheduled in 2017.
He said before that could happen the state secretary of transportation would have to certify that the roads are in such good repair that no further financing is necessary.
"I would find that highly unlikely that they won't need any money for any type of further work on the pike," DeLeo said.
House Republican Leader Brad Jones said GOP lawmakers supported Patrick's veto not because they agree with his larger proposal, but because they wanted to send the whole bill back to the drawing board to strip away any tax hikes.
"Today's vote in the House of Representatives is about one thing, and one thing only — a crippling tax increase," said Jones, R-North Reading. "Massachusetts' taxpayers should not be lulled into a false sense of hope that the $500 million tax increase approved by House Democrats is better than the nearly $2 billion increase being pushed by Gov. Patrick."
Patrick took the defeat in stride.
"While it is no secret that today's transportation finance package shortchanges our transportation needs, it still represents a step forward," Patrick said in a statement. "Now, it's time to put these resources to work."
Patrick's amendment would have allowed for an automatic increase in the state's gas tax if the western tolls come down.
Commuters have long complained that the Pike and its tolls have outlived the original bonds that built the east-west road from Stockbridge to Boston. The western Turnpike's original bonds were paid off in 1983.
Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey has said that if the current bill became law over the veto, the administration would make the best of it while pushing for further discussion of transportation.
Lawmakers also overturned a Patrick veto of $177 million in local aid to cities and towns.