In 2009 Patrick presided over one of the more challenging reorganizations of state government in recent memory when he merged all of the state’s transportation entities into one body now known as MassDOT. Reorganizing government agencies is easy to sell as it sounds like you’re streamlining departments and making them operate in a more efficient manner. Who can argue against reorganizing government to eliminate waste and abuse, right?
Now Patrick has a much tougher sell on his hands with his latest transportation proposal calling for “routine, regular increases in fees, fares, and tolls” and an increase in the state income tax. In addition to these increases Patrick’s plan includes a decrease in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and a dedication of all its revenue to infrastructure projects. In short: this new plan will take more from your paycheck, hit you with all kinds of new user fees but it will take less from your wallet at checkout.
If Patrick is going to get this package through the legislature and please a public that is still weathering the Great Recession he’s going to need to explain in a visually appealing way what it is the public will get in return for paying more. MassDOT is familiar with transparently explaining what they are doing and why but the information available on their website is not in the greatest format or frequent enough for the uninitiated. The data released by the MBTA is more frequent and thorough plus its monthly scorecard is a model that MassDOT should consider replicating for other areas of transportation. Steve Poftak proposed a uniform report card for the entire department in 2011 when there were rumblings of a gas tax increase.
Another place MassDOT could look for inspiration is the state of Washington. Their Department of Transportation releases information in an easily accessible and user friendly format called the Gray Notebook. It’s a downloadable quarterly PDF chock full of data that does not require a degree in urban transportation studies to understand.
In the run-up to putting this extensive proposal together MassDOT held a series of public forums on transportation around the Commonwealth. These forums were a key factor in the crafting of the proposal and getting a better idea of the transportation needs in the different regions of the Commonwealth. Patrick should consider something similar where he tours the state and uses his political organization to make the case for these proposed reforms directly to the public. Patrick should not limit events to a series of town halls though. He should bring people to bridges that are in need of repair and ride the buses of the regional transit authorities. If the public sees what he says needs to be done their completely understandable resistance to higher taxes and fees may change.
Since Patrick is not running for reelection the risk he faces by putting on this kind of a full court press for a major proposal is minimal. The Patrick administration has made significant strides in transparency when it comes to transportation policy but if they are to successfully implement their new plan it is likely they will need to do more to convince the public to pay more.
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