NEW YORK - Rumors continue to circulate in Massachusetts regarding a potential gas-tax increase while the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority heads toward a possible toll hike vote to help it meet its financing needs.
MassPike executive director Alan LeBovidge has asked board members to submit toll-increase proposals by Thursday, with the board set to vote on the matter at its Feb. 24 meeting, according to board member Mary Connaughton. Last month, state Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi delayed a vote to raise tolls on the system in order to evaluate MassPike’s finances further.
Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick is set to release his plan to reform the state’s transportation financing this month. The Associated Press on Monday reported that Patrick’s proposal includes a gas-tax increase of up to 27 cents on top of the current 23.5-cent per gallon tax, for a total of 50.5 cents. In response to the AP report, the Executive Office of Transportation said the administration is still finishing the reform initiative and would not confirm or deny the proposed gas-tax hike. Meanwhile, MassPike must address its challenges while waiting for Patrick’s plan.
“It would be much better now if the full picture were in place before making this vote, but I don’t think the timing is going to give the Turnpike board the luxury of waiting any longer for the governor’s plan,” Connaughton said.
She added that a large gas-tax increase of 27 cents would have to be accompanied by a plan to eliminate tolls in Massachusetts as having both fees would require motorists to take on hefty cost increases.
The authority’s immediate concerns include finding nearly $15 million to help meet debt service costs through June 30.
“I think [MassPike] has an opportunity to either meet its obligation by either further reducing costs or by tapping into reserves for the current year,” Connaughton said. “But beyond June 30, there has to be some type of state intervention or state assistance otherwise the toll hike is going to be large.”
In other news, lawmakers continue to work on a plan to extend the state’s general obligation pledge to five swaps MassPike holds with UBS Securities LLC. The measure on Monday received an initial vote from the House and will now head to a Senate committee. The bill will need a final vote in both chambers before moving to Patrick’s desk.