Patrick taps a manager he had fired to run Pike

LeBovidge was revenue chief

Alan LeBovidge served Jane Swift and Mitt Romney. Alan LeBovidge served Jane Swift and Mitt Romney.
Email|Print| Text size + By Steve Bailey and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / November 19, 2007

Alan LeBovidge, replaced in June as commissioner of revenue by Governor Deval Patrick, is in line for an even higher-profile job: running the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Both LeBovidge and a top administration official confirmed yesterday that Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen will forward LeBovidge's name today to the Turnpike board to become the agency's executive director, succeeding Mary Jane O'Meara, who has been interim director since the summer.

"I am doing it because they are committed to putting in place an efficient, cost-effective operation," LeBovidge, 65, said in a phone interview yesterday. As for his transportation experience, he said: "I drive a car. This is not a transportation job. This is a management job. The road is done."

"I just wanted to make sure I have the right to hire and fire," he added. "I am not going to be beholden to anyone."

If approved by the board, the appointment of LeBovidge would end a long search to find a permanent, day-to-day manager for the sprawling Turnpike Authority since Matthew J. Amorello was forced to resign last year following the Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse. Amorello had been the authority's chairman and had overseen daily operations, but after the collapse, the chairmanship duties were permanently transferred to the transportation secretary.

The appointment comes as the Patrick administration, like the Romney administration before it, is considering merging the Turnpike Authority with the state highway department in the hope of saving money and creating a more efficient system. The Patrick official said yesterday that LeBovidge was chosen to pursue those goals before the administration explores ways to develop new revenues.

The Big Dig project is in its final stages, and the major task now is repairing old structures and fixing severe financial problems.

The Turnpike Authority has spent several months of grueling debate over how to pay off Big Dig debt and, at the same time, afford an estimated $50 million annual tab to refurbish tunnels and repair 16 structurally deficient bridges. Raising the money through tolls, which would mean doubling them, has proven politically difficult. The Turnpike board voted 3 to 2 last month for smaller increases - adding 25 cents to the fee for cars at the Allston-Brighton and Weston tolls, and adding 50 cents in the tunnels.

Cohen has said he will come back with larger toll hikes next year if legislators do not act on Patrick's plans to reorganize the transportation bureaucracy and approve gambling, two steps he believes will raise enough money to forestall more toll increases. That short-term plan has not satisfied the financial community. Moody's Investors Services downgraded the authority's outlook from stable to negative earlier this month, citing concerns about the revenue structure.

LeBovidge is an unconventional choice in that he was fired by Patrick as revenue commissioner, a job he had held since December 2001. He said yesterday he has "no idea" why he was replaced.

"You will have to ask the administration," he said. "I think they were happy with my work. No one ever said I did anything wrong."

When replacing LeBovidge, administration officials said only that they wanted to "go in another direction," but LeBovidge had a number of critics in the business community over the issue of corporate taxation, and some in the labor union that represented many of the 2,000 employees at the Massachusetts Department of Revenue didn't like his brusque management style.

In both the Romney and Patrick administrations, LeBovidge was the architect of plans to tighten the tax codes affecting business. Governor Mitt Romney pushed through two rounds of changes recommended by LeBovidge that were designed to close corporate tax loopholes. Other proposed changes were not carried through.

Earlier this year Patrick proposed changes favored by LeBovidge that would raise as much as $400 million in new revenue from business. Those changes have been stalled in the Legislature.

LeBovidge also ran afoul of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents many employees at the revenue department and whose leaders urged Patrick to fire LeBovidge. The union complained that LeBovidge and his top deputy ran an office that was micro-managed from the top and inflexible.

While LeBovidge has no experience in transportation, he does have strong credentials as a manager. Before moving to the public sector late in his career, LeBovidge spent three decades at PricewaterhouseCoopers and its earlier incarnations. In addition to running the revenue department for the Swift and Romney administrations, he also served as chairman of the Springfield Finance Control Board, the sometimes-controversial panel that was credited with bringing that city back from the edge of bankruptcy. Patrick replaced LeBovidge and the other Romney appointees on that board in May.

One issue that may have worked in LeBovidge's favor is financial.

Cohen, the transportation secretary, had said he was having trouble attracting good candidates for the turnpike job because the Legislature had set the pay at $140,000 a year, and he wanted to raise the salary to as much as $190,000. LeBovidge retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers wealthy enough to donate his $140,000 salary as revenue commissioner to charity.

O'Meara, the turnpike's acting director, is expected to return to her previous job running the Tobin Bridge.

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