Beacon Hill’s MBTA fix: Let them ride the T
Nonplussed by the plight of the poor, a French aristocrat once said “let them eat cake.” With hundreds of thousands of people struggling during the MBTA’s winter crisis, Massachusetts legislative leaders have come up with similar rejoinder:
Let them ride the T.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat, is receptive to greater investment in the MBTA, but he seems uncertain about how to bring that about, given the public’s reluctance to embrace higher fares and/or taxes. In the meantime, he says, the T will roll on once the storms cease and the snow melts.
“The first thing that’s going to happen is it’s going to stop snowing and the sun is going to come out and we’re going to go back to where we were a few months ago,” Rosenberg said at a Tuesday media availability. “Which is not where we want to be, but it’s going to be a functioning system.”
There are several factors undergirding legislative inertia about the T. Last November’s gas tax indexing repeal is Exhibit A for House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who has pledged no new taxes. Massachusetts voters have spoken: they do not want to see gas taxes indexed to inflation even if those taxes go into a transportation lockbox to pay for much needed maintenance.
The organizations that have proposed fixes currently have little political mojo. Both DeLeo and Sen. Thomas McGee, the Lynn Democrat who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, have thrown cold water on the Pioneer Institute’s audacious proposal to put the MBTA into receivership. Having the Boston Herald, The Patriot Ledger, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette editorial boards adding to a slowly growing takeover chorus helps Pioneer’s case. But their plan would need some serious backing from Bay State business leaders, among others, before the solons of Beacon Hill will sit up and take notice.
Absorbing some portion of the T’s massive debt is another way forward. But that proposal has been floated at various junctures over the past decade and has never gotten any serious traction on Beacon Hill.
However, the biggest obstacle to dealing head-on with the MBTA crisis is not Beacon Hill’s “reform before revenue” mindset. It is the expansion reflex that has solidified into a ‘you got yours, now we get ours’ paradigm.
The South Coast commuter rail project continues to inch forward, despite concerns that have been magnified by the T’s current woes that the $2 billion expansion project may be ill-advised and unaffordable.
The 2014 transportation bond bill, which contains state lawmakers’ latest wish list of rail projects, not only includes the controversial Fall River/New Bedford-to-Boston plan, but two western Massachusetts projects, a Springfield-to-Worcester rail link and a Pittsfield-to-New York City line.
Bringing the MBTA up to modern standards requires billions, money that other regions of the state aren’t willing to give up to divert to Big Dig Boston. Again.
In other words, let them ride the T.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is staking out a different path on the MBTA from Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, CommonWealth reports.
The Herald reports that Baker and his staff are moving behind the scenes to take control of the T, including prodding current MassDOT board members to let the governor select a new general manager to replace outgoing T honcho Beverly Scott.
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