House Speaker Bob DeLeo won an easy re-election to the top post as Speaker on Wednesday in the State House, and in comments after his election, vowed to tackle the state’s fiscally-unsound Department of Transportation (MassDOT).
With Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, Winthrop Council President Peter Gill and Winthrop City Manager James McKenna in the audience, DeLeo thanked the voters of his district, the elected officials and the members of the House.
Then he got down to business.
MassDOT recently said they would need billions of dollars over the next 25 years to close a budget gap expected to emerge from simple maintenance of the state’s existing roads, bridges and tunnels. In addition to that, the MBTA is running a $130 million operating deficit for this fiscal year alone.
All of it adds up to a very big financial hole down the road if it were to be ignored, and DeLeo said he wasn’t going to kick the can down the road or the highway.
“While I’m proud of the important reforms we enacted four years ago, I’m frustrated by the depth of the financial troubles within our transportation system,” said DeLeo in prepared remarks. “The root causes, in most cases, predate the sitting governor and those in this Chamber – going as far back to the financing of the Big Dig and before. But it’s our job to fix problems, not to dwell on how we got where we are.”
MassDOT still has to present a plan for dealing with the problems, but DeLeo said he had some principles he plans to follow in dealing with the problem Legislatively in the upcoming session.
Those principles include:
•The Department and Administration must consider all opportunities to bring efficiencies to our transportation operations.
•Any transportation plan must reflect a sense of regional equity. The cost burden must not be borne by any one region nor may the plan benefit one region at the expense of other regions of the state.
•Our roads, bridges and tunnels must be maintained in good and safe condition –worthy of the top-flight national standard that we expect our state to have and consistent with our interest in attracting employers to invest in and brings jobs to Massachusetts. I do not accept that safety must be sacrificed for the sake of fiscal solvency, and I will not accept any proposal that does not provide our citizens with the assurance their transportation infrastructure will be safe and state-of-the-art.
DeLeo also announced that he has been shaken by the massacre in Newtown, CT, and that while most solutions lie at the federal level, he has tapped Jack McDevitt – associate dean of Northeastern University – to study “the dangerous intersection of guns and mental illness in schools and throughout society.”
He also pledged to have the House freeze Unemployment Insurance increases, and to have a House Committee study ways to reform the state’s Unemployment Insurance system.
In conclusion, he sent a rally cry to the other members of the House and pledged to lead them successfully through another productive session.
“My friends and colleagues, we face serious responsibilities,” he said. “This session they involve dealing with fiscal problems throughout state government and our transportation system, protecting existing jobs and creating new ones and healing in the wake of tragic events in neighboring states. My fellow representatives, I assure you we are up to these tasks. Once again, we will rise to the occasion and leave Massachusetts in a better position than when we started.”