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Editorial: Alternative plan

Earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled a long-term vision for Massachusetts, one that sought to heavily invest in a couple of commonwealth cornerstones: education and transportation.

In presenting their thinking on the governor’s proposal — and the kind of changes in the tax structure necessary to implement it — House and Senate lawmakers are making it clear that they think the governor went too far.

What the Legislature has come up with is a plan that seeks only to tackle the transportation issue, leaving education and any new money there out of the equation.

Even the transportation piece, lawmakers are signalling, was too wide in scope.

“We need a healthy transportation system to keep and grow jobs in Massachusetts,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said. “With this plan, we seek to provide adequate funding for the 21st century transportation system our economy needs while not over-burdening the families and businesses of Massachusetts.”

We’re not so sure.

Patrick called for the raising of $1 billion in new revenue for transportation, money that would go toward existing infrastructure needs as well as new projects, like a number of passenger rail projects, including one between Boston and Springfield. The Legislature has countered with half that — a $500,000 plan.

If maintaining the status quo is what House and Senate leadership are seeking at this time, does that produce the kind of outcomes that get western Massachusetts residents to buy into the need for additional tax money? State Sen. Stephen Brewer says that under their plan, our part of the state will get more Chapter 90 money, the aid that goes toward road-and-bridge work ... as well as more money for the regional transit authorities. But it remains uncertain how much this would help in expanding services.

Without some concrete improvements here, it’s going to be a tough sale, especially since a significant part of the revenue will be raised by increasing the gas tax ... a levy that in the past has proved to benefit the eastern part of the state at the expense of the west.

The Legislature plans include a more modest increase, 3 cents, compared to what Patrick wanted — about 30 cents.

But while the governor also sought other significant changes — an income tax increase and a sales tax decrease — the lawmakers’ revenue plan scaled that back, though it does call for a tax increase on tobacco products.

That’s not particularly creative.

And, again, the idea of a greater investment in public education from pre-kindergarten through higher education is completely out of the picture.

Maybe legislators are correct in thinking that Patrick’s package was too ambitious for right now. But is there ever a truly perfect time to put a far-reaching vision in place? We’re always going to hear that now isn’t the time when it comes to raising taxes.

That leaves us thinking that what lawmakers are offering is both short-sighted and short changing what the state should be doing.

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