Patrick eyes casino deadline, 'new revenue' for roads and bridges

By Ken MaGuire
Boston, Massachussets (AP) 9-07

Gov. Deval Patrick, arguing the state needs “new revenue” to fix its roads and bridges and indicating he's not in favor of an anticipated border toll proposal, said he'll announce next week whether he'll support cash-generating casino gambling.

The Democratic governor has delayed his casino decision several times, after pledging an announcement around Labor Day, and then saying Sept. 4 that he needed “a couple of weeks” longer. On Thursday, he said he'll finally take a position next week.

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue for Massachusetts – either from Indian tribes that want to build resort casinos, or possibly from fully taxable commercial casinos as proposed by state Treasurer Tim Cahill.

Also scheduled next week is the release of a report by the Legislature's Transportation Finance Commission, which has drafted recommendations to close a $15 to $19 billion dollar transportation funding gap over the next 20 years.

Patrick, during an appearance Thursday on WTKK-FM radio, said he expects the commission to recommend installing tolls at the state's borders and indicated he's not in favor of that option or a higher gas tax to raise revenue.

“We ought to be about more than just how to move the money around from one pocket to another,” Patrick said. “We have to come up with some new revenue to invest in what's broken. We've got a 16-year-old policy in the commonwealth of letting the bridges and the roads and the rails go to heck.”

Steve Silveira, chairman of the commission, would not comment on what the recommendations are. He said no one has been briefed about the report. “We're releasing our report on Monday,” he said.

The Mashpee Wampanoags want to build a $1 billion casino in Middleborough. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Indians have declared that they'll seek to open a casino if their Mashpee counterparts do the same. Cahill has proposed that the state beat tribes to the punch by allowing commercial casinos.

The Legislature still needs to approve expanded gambling before a full-scale casino can be built.

But even without legislative approval, recognition gives tribes the right to operate bingo parlors, and the Mashpee Wampanoags have said they'll do that in Middleborough if they can't build a casino.

“There is not an obvious answer for the commonwealth, in my view,” Patrick said Thursday. “I do mean to think this through, and have thought it through, from the perspective of its long-term costs and benefits.”

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, said Patrick has unveiled several big ticket items, including free community college, extended school year, and commuter rail service to New Bedford, without funding sources.

“In order to facilitate some of these, he needs new revenues,” said Jones, adding that he expects Patrick to support expanded gambling. “If he's going to come out and say no, then I have no basis as to why it's taking so long to say no.”

Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, earlier raised the possibility of linking possible casino revenue to the closing of the transportation funding gap.

“I think another option you have is on the casino side as well,” he said after a hearing Tuesday. “Look at the gaming side and see how that plays into this. I don't know if that's a real solution yet, but I think everything needs to be on the table.”