March madness at the MBTA

No sooner than the MBTA averts catastrophe one year, authority officials begin telegraphing the next year’s bad news. The caterwauling over the budget deficit reaches a crescendo in the month before the T is mandated to deliver a balanced spending plan. That forces fit-to-be-tied MBTA officials to drone on with a script that they can probably recite in their sleep.

This year’s drama features another multi-million budget deficit going into the 2014 fiscal year that, absent Beacon Hill intervention, the authority proposes to solve with a 33 percent fare increase or significant service cuts.

March Madness at the MBTA, the 2013 edition, is a product of Beacon Hill’s foot-dragging on a comprehensive transportation financing overhaul. In the past, the MBTA’s hand-wringing has prodded Beacon Hill to throw small sums, like $160 million to solve an $8 billion-plus problem, at the agency. All the while, state lawmakers promise to have an “adult conversation” about a permanent solution to the MBTA’s and the state’s transportation finance issues that that never materializes.

‘‘It is what it is. There are consequences of inaction, and we are just doing what we need to do on our end,” said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, the newest member of the MBTA’s Greek chorus.

Gov. Deval Patrick has called on lawmakers to show some “political courage” to deal with the state’s funding plight. His creative proposal to increase the income tax to 6.25 percent and devote  a portion of a lower 4.5 sales tax to transportation has produced the spectacle of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and others backing away slowly from solving a slow-moving crisis that has been festering for nearly a decade.

There are no profiles in courage among transit advocates either. Instead of pressuring the state lawmakers to get existing transportation assets in fiscal order, they shower them with wish lists. Within the past week, proposals to restore after midnight “Night Owl” service (eliminated seven years ago because the MBTA couldn’t afford it) and a Green Line extension to Hyde Park (which no doubt produced howls of laughter from Somerville to West Medford) have been put on the table.

For a transit system in decent fiscal health, these would be sensible ideas that would merit serious consideration. But for the leaking and crumbling MBTA, they are downright wacky.

Worker bees, students, senior citizens, the disabled, and the traffic-phobic will just have to pay up if Beacon Hill fails to act.  As the Boston Business Journal’s Galen Moore points out, “You might complain about it, but you’d still ride the T.” Which is probably what state lawmakers are counting on.

                                                                                                                       –GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

Three bills on Beacon Hill would hike the minimum wage beyond President Obama’s proposal to increase it nationally to $9 an hour.

The state puts millions into fixing up a pair of DCR golf courses it had previously tried to privatize.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says bringing the 2024 Olympics to Boston is far-fetched, WBUR reports.

Competition for the job of Boston City Council staff director comes down to two candidates with master’s degrees and extensive public administration credentials and one with a high school degree plus many degrees of connection to local politicos, most notably City Council President Steve Murphy, who claims all is on the up-and-up.

The Herald digs into a South Boston turf war between Boston cops and the State Police.

An expiring federal grant means 38 firefighters and two firehouses in Lawrence could be closed down unless the cash-strapped city comes up with money to keep them open, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Federal budget cuts are forcing the shutdown of the air traffic control tower at Lawrence Municipal Airport and airports in Beverly, Norwood, New Bedford, Westfield, and Worcester face similar cutbacks, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

As the state is set to name a developer for New Bedford’s South Terminal, residents aired their concerns over health and environmental issues in a city rife with both in redevelopment projects.

CASINOS

Developers are greening up the proposal for a casino at Suffolk Downs.

Plainville hires a $175,000 gambling consultant to run a cost-benefit analysis on slot machines.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Joe Kennedy II mourns the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, NECN reports. Time says it’s the death of a demagogue.

The American Spectator says Secretary of State John Kerry’s first official sojourn abroad is a sign of his Eurocentrist leanings.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget draws friendly fire from inside the GOP.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott loosens the state purse strings.

ELECTIONS

State Democrats, apparently taking a lesson from their complacent attitude in the 2010 special election for US Senate, are swinging early and hard at the GOP hopefuls in the current special election race, especially former US attorney Michael Sullivan.

The state’s review of the contract for Rep. David Sullivan to become Fall River Housing Authority director is holding up campaign plans for candidates who hope to run for his seat once he’s formally installed in the job.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Dow breaks a 2007 record, the Daily Beast reports. Time says the rise means little.

Cape Pond Ice Co. in Gloucester is put up for sale as shipments of ice drop 90 percent with the downturn in the fishing industry, the Gloucester Times reports.

The National Review continues its series on what it says is the environmentalist attack on capitalism with a story on the push at Harvard for the school to divest itself of its fossil fuel holdings.

Stop & Shop has reached a tentative agreement with its employee union that avoids a strike.

TRANSPORTATION

The TSA is easing rules on passengers carrying small knives, bats, and clubs, NECN reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new study suggests climate change will open Arctic sea routes by 2050, NPR reports (via WBUR).

A Joy-ful ending for a Medford teen lost for two nights in the Maine woods after veering off-course while skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Plymouth woman is suing FedEx for mistakenly delivering a package containing vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana to her 11-year-old daughter then giving her address to the alleged dealer who came to her home to retrieve it.

RELIGION

A New York Times/CBS poll finds American Catholics at odds with the church hierarchy’s hard lines on abortion, same-sex marriage, and birth control.

MEDIA

A number of changes on the Globe’s masthead, and they haven’t even sold it yet.

Jon Stewart is taking a break from the Daily Show.