Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Funding? Transit Don't Need Funding!

The MBTA is no exception. Everyone turns to the legislature and new Governor Deval Patrick, saying, "Fix it. Fund it."

Well, all Deval's cabinet and all Deval's courtiers can't even begin to fund the fixes for nearly two decades of legislative and executive abuse here. He opened his new treasure chest to find a billion-dollar debt instead of that much in surplus claimed by the Lieutenant Governor in her recent campaign for this office and by our own Cap'n Brylcreem, a.k.a. POTUS-envying Mitt Romney.

Thanks to a few legislators who will, thank you very much, take reality no matter how painful over Healey/Romney fantasies, the mass-transit funding issue is running around the room screaming for attention right now. They are introducing a bill for the state to take back $2.9 billion of debt it layered over the MBTA's operations.

Yesterday, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill told the T tough nuggies. He said the state could not afford to pay the debt service (third item down).

Well, guess what, Timmy, neither can the T. In fact, this underfunded mandate from the state, based on badly flawed assumptions has crippled the MBTA. It has robbed us all of the necessary improvements to attract riders and has resulted in three fare hikes in a few years, with more likely. In effect, this is putting the T into a death spiral of decreased services, lower ridership, less revenue, and down, down, down.

Background: See dates and figures in this post by Charlie on the MBTA.

The short of it is that the state, including the Treasurer's office made its best guesses of how much sales tax revenue we'd get in good times, promised the T 20% of that to try to offset a $5 billion-plus debt it piled on. Part of the deal was to say that the MBTA had to break even from then on.

When sales taxes tanked and there was no way for the T to meet its side, the state has whistled and looked skyward. That doesn't cut it. The state made a huge mistake and needs to fix it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we want fewer vehicles on the road, more mass-transit commuters, less air and noise pollution. Blah, blah. Yet, many of us say let T riders pay for all the costs, forgetting how much beyond tolls or taxes we are subsidized for the roads and related infrastructure to support our automobile jones.

Patrick seems to be about responsibility and fixing what is broken. A lot was broken in the past two decades. Only a few of these are as obvious, affect as many every day, and have such far-reaching implications as the T funding.

Like the $1 billion deficit, Patrick has a problem here. The solution is Sen. Barrios and his buddies'. We need to correct this error and figure out how to amortize and benefit from this mid-term and long-term. We had one administration and legislature after another being dishonest about the funding issues and then refusing to admit their blunders here.

The Mitt has left the building, but he has left quite a mess for others to clean up after.

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