Massachusetts treasurer blasts MassPike’s ‘fiscal shell game’

| 7/28/2009

Massachusetts Treasurer Timothy Cahill says the state stands to assume a $432 million burden if a taxpayer lawsuit against the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is not resolved soon.

Cahill is urging Gov. Deval Patrick to take immediate action and resolve the lawsuit prior to a court hearing Aug. 6 that could leave the state on the hook for financial liability.

Toll payers are suing the Turnpike Authority, also known as MassPike, for allegedly overcharging and diverting toll revenue to pay down debts associated with the Big Dig tunnel project in Boston.

The plaintiff group, which includes truckers and trucking companies as well as commuters, says the revenue should be spent only on the specific roadway on which a user fare is collected.

Time is of the essence, Cahill said, because the state of Massachusetts assumes financial responsibility for turnpike operations starting Nov. 1. Without resolution by then, Massachusetts would inherit the financial liabilities of the class action.

“I know I join taxpayers across Massachusetts who are outraged that the Turnpike Authority has been financially mismanaged for years – and that the state has to assume that burden,” Cahill stated in the letter dated Monday, July 27.

“Not only has the Turnpike Authority allowed this inequity to continue, it has recently threatened to increase tolls on the MassPike – even though the Transportation Reform legislation mandated that tolls be reduced. Without speaking to the merits of the class action, to overcharge toll payers so others can ride for free is fundamentally unfair. This type of fiscal shell game cannot continue and must be addressed immediately.”

Gov. Patrick signed the reform legislation in late June to consolidate turnpike operations with other state agencies and form one transportation department.

Turnpike officials had also been taking steps to cut costs, but lawmakers ultimately decided on consolidation.

Through all of the discussions about tolls, turnpikes and lawsuits, the $15 billion price tag associated with the Big Dig remains.

Patrick continues to search for an equitable way to pay down the debt. He has not ruled out an increase in fuel taxes.

– By David Tanner, staff writer