House members last week approved their version of a transportation reform bill, one that would terminate the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and allow the state to issue special obligation bonds to help finance future infrastructure improvements throughout the state. The bill received initial approval in the lower chamber in a 147 to 7 vote.
The Senate has its own reform measure that passed two weeks ago. Lawmakers in both chambers will now work on a compromise bill before it moves on to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk, according to Samantha Dallaire, spokeswoman for Senate President Therese Murray.
The House initiative would create a new authority called the Massachusetts Transportation and Infrastructure Authority that will combine MassPike with the Department of Highways. The new agency would also revamp the current Executive Office of Transportation.
The MTIA would manage all transportation departments and quasi-public agencies, including the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the state’s public transit agency, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees the Boston Logan International Airport and the Port of Boston. The MTIA would have a five-member board, chaired by the governor.
The bill would create two funds, one to pay down $7.4 billion of existing MassPike and MBTA debt with toll and fare revenue, and another to enable the state to issue special obligation bonds backed by gas tax revenue and motor vehicle fees. The House plan does not include new or additional revenue streams.
“We [would] create a hybrid authority that allows for commonwealth credit to provide financing flexibility for the authority,” Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Hampden, said last week on the House floor. Wagner co-chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation.
The House measure would reform pension and health care benefits to generate savings, with current MassPike and MBTA employees moving to the Group Insurance Commission, the health insurance plan for state employees.
The Senate bill would terminate MassPike and the MBTA and place the two operations under a new bonding authority called the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Authority. The MSTA would issue bonds for the two entities. The bill includes pension reforms but does not require MassPike and MBTA employees to move to the GIC for health care coverage. Like the House bill, it does not include new revenue streams.
Patrick has called for a 19-cent hike to the gas tax to help fund infrastructure needs. His reform plan involves folding MassPike into the Executive Office of Transportation and would leave the MBTA as a stand-alone agency.