Police details slashed in transportation reform pitch By Casey Ross Thursday, March 27, 2008 - Updated 20m ago Boston Herald Reporter A sweeping transportation reform plan announced today proposes to curb the use of police details on road projects, slash employee benefits at the MBTA and Mass Pike and force all transportation agencies to publicly report cash flow on major construction projects. Senate President Therese Murray announced the measures today in a press conference with Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi, all of whom proclaimed an urgent need to implement reforms to help dig the state out of a $19 billion transportation funding deficit. “Our transportation system has got to be addressed,” Murray said. “Everything has to be on the table. We’re under no illusions this set of proposals is perfect, but we know it is of the utmost importance to our economy to start this conversation now.” Despite the focus on transportation policy, the press conference was closely watched amid the ongoing war of words between DiMasi and Patrick. Patrick today accused DiMasi on the front page of the New York Times [NYT] of engaging in old-school politics to kill his casino proposal. Patrick and DiMasi made a concerted effort to compliment one another during the press conference, and both men pledged to work together to implement the transportation reforms as quickly as possible. “There are a whole host of initiatives we have worked on and continue to work on successfully,” Patrick said. “We had a sharp (difference) over the resort casino proposal ... but it was a difference. It doesn’t mean that good work doesn’t get done.” DiMasi declined to respond to the language used by Patrick in the New York Times piece (the governor said the speaker should be “called out” for strong-arming House members); instead the speaker decried efforts by the news media to always insert a slant in their coverage. “The papers are used to put forth a twist or a bent on something,” DiMasi said. “And sometimes that’s not reality. The reality is I’m working with the governor. We’re working very closely with the governor on (transportation), (the $1 billion) life sciences proposal and all of the other issues.” All three leaders declared united support for curtailing the use of police details on road projects – long a “sacred cow” of Massachusetts politics that is often criticized as a wasteful give-away to police unions. Murray said the transportation and public safety officials will craft a regulation for the use of civilian flag men on projects on secondary roads where traffic is moving more slowly. Police would still be used to direct traffic at work sites on major highways. Officials said the plan would save $100 million over 20 years. Patrick said he is moving close to announcing another raft of reforms that would consolidate quasi-public agencies – the Mass Pike, MBTA and Massport – into a single structure to increase transparency and cut costs. He said the reform plans will be introduced before officials consider a hike in the gas tax or expanding the use of highway tolls to help pay future transportation costs.