Time for adult conversations

State sens. Michael Rodrigues and Thomas McGee speak during a meeting with The Item.

State Sen. Michael Rodrigues delivered one of the all-time classic understatements on Thursday during an interview with fellow Sen. Thomas M. McGee and The Item editorial board.

“It’s very difficult to have an adult conversation about taxes,” said the Westport Democrat.

Truer words were never spoken.

A minority of Lynn voters went to the polls on March 21 and rammed a plan to build new public schools into the ground with the force of a piledriver. The argument against the schools revolved around protecting open space and cemetery land. But voters saw red when they were asked to approve a property tax debt exclusion to pay for new schools.

On the other extreme, statewide gambling proponents promised to open the floodgates and pour new tax money into Massachusetts. They pointed to tax revenue from two casinos and a slot parlor as a solution to everything from beefing up police forces to boosting the state’s economy.

Rodrigues and McGee have been crisscrossing Massachusetts with fellow senators as part of Commonwealth Connections. Billed as a listening tour, the series of forums, including one planned next Tuesday in Lynn and another scheduled for that night in Peabody, are aimed principally at collecting and prioritizing ideas for fixing Massachusetts’ transportation infrastructure.

As chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, McGee has repeatedly pointed out how the state’s infrastructure is deteriorating. He has urged legislators, businesspeople, and fellow Lynn residents; as well as people statewide, to talk about how to pay for billions of dollars worth of needed transportation improvements.

He pointed out how tax discussion degenerate into “divisive” debates over prioritizing public spending. Echoing McGee’s point, Rodrigues observed how “everyone is dug into their own box” when it comes to protecting state-approved tax credits lessening the burden on a specific population or business sector.

McGee can’t be blamed for sometimes thinking he is whistling past the graveyard when he points out how improving transportation is a universal challenge everyone has to think about in dollars and cents. He points to the deteriorating General Edwards Bridge — a gateway to the city — as an example of a major expense that cannot be ignored.

Put in simpler terms, McGee is urging a statewide conversation on how to pay for transportation improvements that not only benefit Massachusetts’ economy but prevent disaster and loss of life.

He is not encouraged about the possibility of federal money flooding into the state for infrastructure repairs. But McGee isn’t giving up on the notion that Commonwealth Connections can inspire people across Massachusetts to focus on transportation improvement ideas and ways to pay for them.

It’s time for the adults in the room to start talking.  

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