The Salvucci salvation

Beacon Hill has been wrestling with the MBTA’s chronic budget shortfalls for a year now, and with two months left to shore up the T’s budget, legislative leaders remain at loggerheads. It’s not for lack of ideas or money: In a Globe op-ed today, former state transportation secretary Fred Salvucci solves the T’s broken budget in 750 words.

Salvucci’s roadmap for fixing the T’s fiscal woes leads straight to Massport. That’s not surprising, since policymakers are already looking to the agency to pick up MBTA ferry and Silver Line service as a way of balancing this year’s T budget, which remains $51 million out of balance, even after the passage of a package of fare hikes and service cuts. The ferry portion of that plan is currently awaiting FAA approval, and uncertainty over financing ferry service is helping drive the legislative standoff over filling that $51 million hole.

The Patrick administration sent the Legislature a bill backfilling the $51 million deficit with a package of one-time revenues, but the House diverted $5 million from those funds to the state’s regional transit agencies. The Senate abstained from voting that package out of committee, and Tom McGee, the Senate’s point man on transportation, tells the Globe today that the RTAs should wait until next year for more funds because “clearly the MBTA challenge is the most pressing right now.”

Salvucci’s op-ed bypasses the current spat between lawmakers inside the T’s core service area and those outside it by arguing that both sides need to be part of the T’s rescue. Forward-funding and T-financed capital projects are crippling the agency, he writes, “but when the proposal is to raise a tax to pay old bills primarily for Boston projects completed a decade ago, in the middle of a difficult economic period, legislators, especially from outside of the Boston metropolitan area, are understandably reluctant.”

To bridge the two sides, Salvucci calls for Massport to pump $100 million in airport garage parking fees into the T, as the first step in a bigger state-led transit rescue. The Massport parking fees would turn commonly accepted complaints about the Big Dig (a Boston transportation project paid for by statewide taxpayers and Turnpike riders) on their head: Salvucci calls Massport “the biggest single beneficiary of the Big Dig,” and says that, since the agency didn’t pay for tunnel bonds, the least it can do is pass along some of the cash it generates from cars zooming through the Ted Williams Tunnel, and into its parking garages. 

                                                                                                                                                        –PAUL MCMORROW


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