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Massachusetts: Bill signing ends turnpike authority

Massachusetts: Bill signing ends turnpike authority
Saturday, June 27, 2009

Business writer

SPRINGFIELD - As part of a deal paving the way for an increase in the state's sales tax, Gov. Deval L. Patrick signed the transportation reform bill into law Friday at his Western Massachusetts office here.

The law is expected to save $6.5 billion over 20 years by consolidating the plethora of agencies that are now responsible for the state's transportation infrastructure - including the state Aeronautical Commission, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Outdoor Advertising Board and the Highway Department - into one Department of Transportation.

"It's a historic reform," Patrick said. "But there is more work to do."
Savings attached to the new law will include $30 million a year by moving all active and retired Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority employees to the health plan that covers state employees. It also ends the "23 and out" retirement plan for all new MBTA employees. That plan allowed full retirement after 23 years of service.

The bill Patrick signed into law has no funding mechanism, but it is expected to clear the way for the state to increase its sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent. About $275 million of the estimated $600 million to $900 million new revenue from the tax increase will be used to prevent turnpike toll increases in Boston that are scheduled to go into effect in July.

"The Legislature kept its end of the bargain. I'm going to keep my end," Patrick said.

The governor said he still doesn't believe that increasing the sales tax is the "best idea" for raising revenue. "It's the idea that we have now," Patrick said.

State Rep. Joseph F. Wagner, D-Chicopee, said his mantra is that reform must come before revenue. Wagner is House chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

"It's tough to convince the public that they should reach into their pocket for more if they think the whole system is broken," Wagner said.

He said the new system will speed road and bridge projects that might have spent 10 years on the drawing board before a shovel of dirt is turned.

"We might be able to cut that in half," Wagner said.

The new law also creates a board of five appointed by the governor to four-year terms to govern the Department of Transportation. It also authorizes a new department to collect tolls on the turnpike and the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge in Boston. It also will transfer $2 billion in Big Dig debt to the new department.

Jim Kinney can be reached at

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