Home Part of States Newsroom
Former MassDOT Secretary Aloisi comes to defense of Tibbits-Nutt


Former MassDOT Secretary Aloisi comes to defense of Tibbits-Nutt

Apr 23, 2024 | 12:52 pm ET
By Bruce Mohl
Former MassDOT Secretary Aloisi comes to defense of Tibbits-Nutt
'I understand why there’s a kerfuffle because I’ve been in that position,' says Jim Aloisi, a former transportation secretary under Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Courtesy of Jim Aloisi)

Jim Aloisi knows how Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt feels.

“I understand why there’s a kerfuffle because I’ve been in that position,” said Aloisi, a former transportation secretary himself under Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. “It did remind me a little bit of me.”

Tibbits-Nutt has been at the center of a firestorm since Thursday, when CommonWealth Beacon reported on remarks she delivered at a Walk Massachusetts event on April 10. The secretary talked frankly about where she stands on a number of transportation issues, calling for more aggressive enforcement of speeding laws, pledging to do away with a commuter rail layover facility as part of the I-90 Allston project, condemning a fixup of the Tobin Bridge that showered a Chelsea neighborhood with paint chips, and slamming those who drive F-150 trucks.

She also said a task force she is heading is looking at all sorts of options for raising new transportation revenues, including a payroll tax increase, new fees on Uber and Lyft trips and package deliveries, and tolls at the state’s borders – “basically going after everybody who has money.”

It wasn’t so much what she said as how she said it. She indicated she wasn’t going to sugarcoat things just to stay in her job and collect a pension.

Gov. Maura Healey on Monday issued a statement saying the border tolling idea was a nonstarter with her. She did, however, express confidence in Tibbits-Nutt.

In 2009, Aloisi was the one at the center of a firestorm as the secretary of transportation. The state was slowly coming out of the Great Recession and the transportation system badly needed new revenue. Aloisi called for a 19-cent increase in the state gasoline tax, a proposal that ran into a buzz saw of opposition, including from then-Senate President Therese Murray, who thought the MBTA and other state transportation agencies needed to change the way they operated before receiving new money. “Reform before revenue” was the shorthand version of her stance.

At a lengthy legislative hearing, Aloisi testified in support of his gas tax proposal. Toward the very end of his presentation, he was asked about reform before revenue and said “reform before revenue is a meaningless slogan.”

The impolitic comment didn’t go over well, and undoubtedly contributed to Aloisi’s departure as secretary of transportation after less than a year on the job.

Not surprisingly, Aloisi liked the way Tibbits-Nutt spoke her mind, even if he didn’t agree with all of her policy stances. “I think people need to give her a little space here,” he said. “You can’t beat up on cabinet secretaries who speak from the heart and tell you what they’re thinking.”

Interestingly, he didn’t fault Healey for reining Tibbits-Nutt in. Aloisi said Healey with her statement reminded everyone who’s the boss in the administration but also didn’t walk away from Tibbits-Nutt. “That’s gold-plated in my opinion,” Aloisi said. “Having the governor say that when you’re under fire is the whole game.”

Aloisi, a frequent contributor of commentaries to CommonWealth Beacon, said he doesn’t think the public benefits from “anodyne” cabinet secretaries who are afraid to say what they think and prompt debate. “We say we want transparency, then we should accept what transparency means,” he said. “You can’t have this conversation [about new revenues] in Massachusetts without people’s hair catching on fire. It’s always about the money.”

In 2009, the gas tax increase Aloisi championed was replaced with an increase in the state sales tax, with the new revenue going to transportation. Even though things didn’t turn out the way Aloisi proposed, he continues to insist – 15 years later – that reform before revenue was a meaningless slogan. “History has proven me right,” he said.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.