Romney pushes for department merger

| Friday, January 23, 2004

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his budget aides are pushing for the merger of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the state's Highway Department, despite protests from the turnpike board, according to The Boston Globe.

The newspaper report detailed charges made by the Romney administration Jan. 21, which said the turnpike authority has not trimmed its workforce despite the addition of automated toll collection systems. Describing the authority as an inefficient operation, the governor's budget aides say the authority runs on annual deficits and has been using risky investment tools in its attempts to generate more funds.

Jordan Levy, vice chairman of the turnpike board, denied the deficits and risky investment claims, telling The Globe that the authority has made “good, solid business decisions."

The governor first proposed the merger during his 2002 election campaign, but lawmakers turned down his proposal last year. He plans to try again with his 2005 budget proposal being launched next week.

The proposed merger could help make up a reported $1 billion deficit in the governor's 2005 budget by giving the state $190 million from the turnpike's reserve fund and saving the state $20 million a year.

Democratic opponents to the merger have criticized the governor for trying to “grab turnpike reserves in the name of reform” and have questioned his savings estimates.