Gov. Deval Patrick is using transportation projects in Dorchester and Mattapan to pitch his tax-hike plans to lawmakers and members of the public.
The transportation plans include the filling-in of the missing links of the Neponset River Greenway trail in the wake of the state’s two failed attempts at federal funding.
The tax-hike proposal, which includes reforms like elimination of some tax exemptions and deductions, raises the income tax to 6.25 percent while lowering the sales tax to 4.5 percent. “The public knows and I know we can’t reform our way to a new road. We turn to taxes because roads and schools are the kinds of things we do together. We all have a stake in this,” Patrick told reporters last week at a press conference touting 400 maps and the proposed transportation projects and education funding broken down by state Senate and House districts.
But lawmakers – who will face the electorate next year as Patrick, who isn’t running for re-election in 2014, winds down his State House tenure – have repeatedly expressed wariness over the proposals. “A tax vote is never an easy vote,” said state Rep. Martin Walsh, a Dorchester Democrat and a top union official.
Walsh echoed House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who said on Sunday in an interview on WCVB’s “On the Record” show that he was looking at “any and all alternatives” to Patrick’s proposals.
“I’m keeping my mind open to all proposals that come in front of me,” Walsh said. “I also think we have to be sensitive to the fact that we’re coming out of a recession.”
But Walsh noted it’s still early as House and Senate budget-writers work on their own proposals for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts on July 1.
State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a fellow Dorchester Democrat who is running for state Senate, said Patrick has offered a “good proposal,” but the Legislature will look to “see what looks better.”
State Rep. Nick Collins, a South Boston Democrat who is running for the same state Senate seat, said in a statement he is still “carefully reviewing” the governor’s proposal. “There certainly are needed investments in education and infrastructure that we need to make but it is our job to make sure we, as a Legislature, pass a revenue package that does not further squeeze the middle class or stunt growth,” he said.
Patrick’s budget proposal, which includes the multi-million dollar resurfacing of Gallivan Boulevard, also lists the $16.8 million completion of Neponset Greenway Trail project on the map for the First Suffolk District, represented until last month by former state Sen. Jack Hart.
The three missing sections would add 4.2 miles to the 4.7 miles that already exist. The missing sections include a stretch between Mattapan MBTA Station and Central Ave.; a piece that runs by the gas tank off Dorchester Bay from Morrissey Boulevard and Tenean Beach; and a small section in Hyde Park near the Neponset Valley Parkway.
“It would completely build the greenway as envisioned, filling in those three missing sections, the Mattapan section being the most prominent,” said Valerie Burns, head of the Boston Natural Areas Network, a local advocacy group.
The Mattapan segment includes a pedestrian bridge over high-speed transit tracks in and effort to deter pedestrians from crossing the Mattapan trolley line. The pedestrian bridge will cost $4.2 million, and a bridge over the Neponset River will cost $1.2 million.
Two attempts at federal funding haven’t been fruitful, Burns said. “We just haven’t been successful,” she said. “I haven’t seen really encouraging signs that a third time might work.”
Vivien Morris, chair of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, said she is “guardedly optimistic” about the project’s prospects. “We are hoping that everyone agrees this is a good use of state funds and the funding is there for completing the Neponset River Greenway,” she said.
Rep. Forry, who is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry and is considered a longtime proponent of the project, called it overdue. “I think the state funding is the only avenue left at this point,” she said.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.