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Mass. Senate prez won’t rule out tolls at the border

Gov. Maura Healey might have tapped the brakes on a controversial proposal to put tolls at the border, but the top Democrat in the state Senate still isn’t saying no ― at least, not yet.

“Certainly, I’m not ruling anything out, and I don’t think I don’t think we should,” Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Middlesex/Norfolk, said Sunday during an appearance on WCVB-TV’s “On the Record” program.

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt made statewide headlines last month — and not the good kind — when she floated the idea of tolling the New Hampshire border. Republican critics pounced, and Healey was forced to step in and distance herself from the remarks of one of her chief lieutenants.

But Spilka, whose MetroWest constituents largely depend on the Massachusetts Turnpike to get from place to place, said commuters in her suburban district have been bearing the burden of tolls, without seeing their share of the benefit.

And if the state wants a “21s- century transportation system,” then there has to be an “honest discussion” about how to pay for it,” she told the station.

“Look at all the problems that T has had, and the other [regional transit agencies] across the state,” she said. “But in the last few years, we have been investing, [and] the Senate has taken the lead the regional equity to invest in our [regional transit agencies] to make sure that everybody who needs public transportation can take it.”

Yet “we don’t have a discussion as to how we are going to pay for it,” Spiilka continued, adding that, “people don’t seem to want more tolls … Then let’s have a discussion of [the] alternatives. I just think we need to have an honest discussion.”

The Senate is set to begin debate Monday on a $57.9 billion budget plan for the new fiscal year that starts July 1 which includes hundreds of millions of dollars in state support for both the MBTA and regional transit agencies across the state.

Speaking to WCVB-TV, the Senate’s top Democrat appeared to throw cold water on the idea of tolling the Cape Cod bridges, which are in line for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal repair money.

Tibbits-Nutt also has suggested making tourists pay for the privilege of crossing the Cape Cod Canal.

“I don’t know if they make sense there,” she said, adding later that local leaders “know themselves better than Beacon Hill, to be honest with you. And there needs to be some discussion.”

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