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Buck passing could impact area.

Byline: Karyn Polito

COLUMN: Polito's Point of View

Once again, the Mass. Turnpike Authority (MTA) is looking to solve its funding crisis and more than $1.2 billion debt, attributable to the Big Dig, by passing the buck to MetroWest commuters.

MTA Executive Director Alan LeBovidge has warned that tolls could increase as much as 50 cents, realistically creating a $20 monthly toll increase for commuters from MetroWest.

Central Mass. is disproportionately bearing the weight of this debt. The Fast Lane discount that subscribers receive was the silver lining to this commuter tax, but is now also facing the threat of elimination as an unfunded mandate against the authority.

The elimination of this program serves as a separate, and yet equally devastating, toll hike for those who use the turnpike daily to commute to work.

Worcester attorney and MTA board member Michael Angelini opposes the increases and insists that imposing such a toll raise is the least fair thing to do and yet Central Mass. stands vulnerable to a toll hike that travelers on other state roads remain free from bearing.

MTA revenues are running $70 million short for operating costs for this year, versus a projected $100 million short for next year.

LeBovidge's plan for the coming year includes decreasing toll collection staff, cutting into reserves, eliminating Fast Lane discounts and certain neighborhood discounts, and selling or leasing turnpike property, such as rest areas, to try and create additional revenue.

While these cost saving measures should help assuage the funding shortfalls, LeBovidge believes they will not be enough.

Other cost measures, such as merging the MTA into the state Highway Department as proposed by former Gov. Mitt Romney should be on the table in order to achieve additional cost savings.

The proposed imposition of a 50 cent toll hike would result in nearly $50 million in additional revenue, wiping out more than half of the existing deficit, yet I believe this approach unfairly places this expense on our commuters.

In this country, we have always believed that if you work hard, you and your family can get ahead and achieve the American dream. For many hardworking people in our state, this dream is slowly slipping away in our current economic climate.

Our residents are facing a crisis of affordability.

According to the Tax Foundation, our state has a "very high" tax burden when compared to other states across the nation. The cost of living continues to rise, including record high fuel prices, which have consequentially driven up food prices, affecting the working middle class more than any other demographic.

Yet, the state doesn't seem to understand the effect the economy is having on this population; tax revenues in Massachusetts are up 4 percent over August 2007.

Gov. Deval Patrick added more than 1,900 new state jobs to the taxpayers' tab. Meanwhile foreclosures in this state are almost double what they were last year. The very last thing that our struggling middle class needs is another increased expense passed on via tolls; as they are already under pressure to make their hard-earned dollars go as far as they once did.

I am working with my fellow interested legislators to arrange a meeting with Gov. Patrick to address this issue and try to prevent the imposition of such a quick fix on our local citizens.

I recently sent a letter to Mr. LeBovidge, requesting a public hearing to discuss the rationale behind this inequitable approach to distributing the liability for the MTA debt. While responsibility for this funding crisis has been passed on to commuters as a first option historically, one thing is certain: Neither Metro-West, nor any one part of the Commonwealth should be saddled with the current financial predicament created and perpetuated by the Big Dig and the MTA.

Karyn Polito (R-Shrewsbury) is the state representative for the 11th Worcester District, which includes Shrewsbury and precincts 1 and 4 in Westboro. She can be reached at www.karynpolito.com.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 18, 2008
Words:661
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