Tom Warne Report, 20 July 2012
Massachusetts – Taxpayers seeking to stop the diversion of toll revenue from the Massachusetts Turnpike to the Big Dig are undeterred by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that rejected a toll fairness lawsuit. The lead attorney representing the taxpayers said he will petition the U.S. Supreme Court in the case.
On July 11, the high court in Massachusetts ruled 7-0 that state transportation officials can legally transfer millions in turnpike funds to pay off Boston’s Central/Artery Tunnel project, known as the Big Dig. The most recent reports estimate the principal and interest for the Big Dig totaling $24.3 billion, and, even with the 23 percent toll increase that took effect July 1, it will take until 2038 for the project to be paid off.
“This was a decision that will leave toll payers vulnerable to abusive taxes masquerading as fees,” said attorney Jan Schlichtmann. “We feel this is a very important constitutional issue and we plan to do a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. We think there’s a fundamental constitutional unfairness in making toll payers not only pay for the toll road but also pay for the biggest boondoggle in U.S. history – the Big Dig,” Schlichtmann said.
The plaintiffs in the case include 1,600 taxpayers, which joined the class-action suit in May 2009 seeking $440 million in refunds for tolls that were spent uses unrelated to the turnpike. A superior court judge tossed the case out of court after hearing the complaint that year, leaving a 1997 law intact which put the Big Dig under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and authorized toll revenue to fund the project. Last week’s ruling upheld the lower court’s decision from 2009.
In an issue unrelated to the lawsuit, in 2009, Gov. Deval Patrick dissolved the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and transferred its operations in to the state transportation department as part of a transportation reform package.