BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick is challenging Beacon Hill lawmakers to muster the “political courage” to support his proposed tax reforms to generate new revenue for transportation and education investments, casting the decision as one of generational responsibility — especially when it comes to MBTA rail service.
“We must each of us sacrifice a little today so that we may all share in a better and stronger tomorrow,” Patrick told a crowd gathered Wednesday at the State House for Transportation Day, sounding a theme he has emphasized often over his six years as governor and one echoed thius week by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.
The event, designed to introduce the various state transportation agencies and their programs to lawmakers, came as skeptical legislators are being asked by the governor to approve a menu of tax reform proposals designed to generate $1.9 billion in new revenue and slightly shift the state’s tax burden off lower-to-middle income families.
He urged people to talk to their neighbors and representatives in the Legislature about the importance of investing in transportation and education, suggesting “reform alone” will not deliver for Massachusetts the type of transportation he says the state needs to remain economically competitive.
“Help them see the generational urgency of this moment and help them find the political courage to choose what’s right for our long-term good instead of just what’s easy for short-term politics,” Patrick said.
With the MBTA staring at a $140 million budget gap without another infusion of funding, the governor and his transportation team have called for up to $1 billion a year in new funding to be poured into the system for upkeep and maintenance as well as expansion projects like the Green Line extension to Medford, South Coast rail, and the expansion of South Station in Boston.
The MBTA is also facing capital needs that include reconstruction of the more than century-old Annisquam River rail bridge in Gloucester, and the agency is coming off a year that saw a series of fare hikes and threatened cuts to rail service that drew widespread opposition on Cape Ann — and that the agency ultimately backed off.
“The question is, ‘Are we going to do what’s necessary to accomplish the ends?’” Patrick told reporters. “The means, you know, there are a whole host of different ways of doing it. I’ve proposed one series of ideas and I’m open to others, but what I’m not open to is doing less than what’s necessary to assure ourselves a 21st century transportation network and schools that reach every child.”
When the governor presented his fiscal 2014 budget in January, he said he would not be willing to accept an increase in the income tax to 6.25 percent, as he proposed, if it was not packaged with a decrease in the sales tax to 4.5 percent.
Still, Patrick said Wednesday it was too early to start drawing lines in the sand with legislative leaders.
“It’s too soon for that. It’s a fair question but it’s really too soon for that,” Patrick said. “I have to respect the legislative process. They have their process, both on the House and the Senate side.
“I think what I’m trying to do is get the members, the leadership and the general public to focus first and foremost on what it is we all need to accomplish in transportation and education and not start where we often do, which is at our rhetorical corners hurling slogans back and forth.”
Patrick said his generation – the Baby Boom generation – had “lost our grip” on the idea of building and investing for future generations. “We started governing for the short term, for the next election cycle or news cycle,” Patrick said. “If we are to keep our leading edge economically we in our time have got to turn that around.”