At what price?
Pie in the sky ... or a true vision for improving public transportation? With regard to the plan unveiled by Gov. Deval Patrick this week, the answer likely rests with the reaction to the price tag.
What’s envisioned isn’t cheap. All that the governor wants to tackle — road and bridge repairs, improvements to existing services and expansion of passenger rail around the state — will cost billions of taxpayer money.
And while the Patrick administration has provided possible options for raising those billions — a higher gas tax, sales tax increases, more payroll tax, added vehicle registration fees, something based on mileage or other taxes or fees — the governor didn’t pinpoint the funding option he wants.
The need for all this has been staring us all straight in the face for years. The need for tackling long-neglected infrastructure that includes our roads, bridges and existing passenger rail is well documented. The same holds true of expanding passenger rail around the state so that there are viable options in commuting for work or simply getting from Springfield or North Adams to places like Boston or New York City.
But the will to ante up for it, and the details of how to pay for it — that’s always going to be the problem.
No one likes to see taxes or fees increase, even when the reason for doing so is understandable. Seeking money for such a plan is made more difficult by its timing. A sluggish economy doesn’t put anyone in the frame of mind for such increases.
And many in the commonwealth are still smarting from the knowledge that the Big Dig, which helped solve Boston traffic problems by depleting funds for other state projects, is still not entirely paid for.
Truthfully, though, there’s never a good time ... and the fact is that work like this helps put dollars into the local economy.
Doing nothing is not an option. Delaying or reducing the plan’s scope will only cost the commonwealth time and money down the road.
“I really think there’s some acknowledgement that we can’t continue as we are without investing in our infrastructure, because it’s important to the economy,” said state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, the House’s Ways and Means vice chairman. And just as Kulik sees the need to spread around money in different parts of the state, he also argues that the best approach to raising the money shouldn’t just rely on one source.
It’s an ambitious plan. But we think it can be argued that of the many needs facing Massachusetts, transportation can no longer take a back seat.
That will have to be the case the governor makes no matter what direction he takes in paying for these improvements.