Chandler backs more funding for RTAs

But Baker says state has been 'pretty supportive'

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

AS SUPPORTERS OF THE PUBLIC bus system in her hometown worry about a “death spiral” in services, Senate President Harriette Chandler said Monday the Senate’s budget will attempt to address the funding crunch for regional transit authorities.

Chandler, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday heard a presentation on funding for regional transit authorities (RTAs) from Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack a day after the Amalgamated Transit Union spread word of a March 20 rally in Worcester “against the level-funding of the 15 Regional Transit Authorities in Massachusetts.”

According to ATU Local 22, the funding level proposed by Baker in his fiscal 2019 budget proposal would cause a “devastating and crippling loss to public transit across the state,” especially Worcester, Springfield, and the Merrimack Valley. The union said a “death spiral is likely to occur” in Worcester if the RTA there is funded at Baker’s proposed level.

On Monday morning, in a speech to the Worcester Chamber of Commerce, Chandler said the Worcester Regional Transit Authority is in “dire straits partially thanks to an overall cut in state funding over the past few years.”

“I’ll note that the governor is proposing to once again level-fund the WRTA this year, leaving the organization exactly where it was in 2015, despite increasing fuel costs, health insurance, and other commitments,” Chandler said, according to a copy of her remarks provided by her office. “That’s no way to run a growing business; it’s no way to run a transit system. This isn’t a problem unique to our RTA, and it is one that we will be working to address in the upcoming Senate budget.”

The House and Senate, which touted RTA investments in a 2013 law, plan to redraft Baker’s budget and pass their own bills in April and May, respectively.

After the meeting with Chandler and DeLeo on Monday afternoon, Baker said the notion that state funding for RTAs has dropped off recently is not accurate.

“The operating support from the commonwealth to the RTAs went from $60 million to $80 between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2018, and capital support from the commonwealth to the RTAs went from $20 million to $60 million annually between fiscal 14 and fiscal 18,” he said. “I think the state has been pretty supportive of the RTAs, generally.”

Chandler did not divulge the details of how the Senate plans to address funding for RTAs in its budget, but suggested that funding increases may be tied to measurable performance.

“I think we mostly all agree with the fact that we would like to see something tied, some performance efforts tied to any major increases that might come so that we have some way of holding all the RTAs to some kind of improvement standards,” the Senate president said.

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Baker said the group talked Monday with Pollack about making sure the state’s level of support is appropriate for each RTA, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

“One of the things we talked about with the secretary was can we come up with a plan that doesn’t just assume you just formula adjust across the board when you have RTAs that, in many cases, are in very different places doing very different kinds of work and serving very different kinds of populations,” the governor said. “But the idea that the state has been cutting funding to the RTAs just isn’t borne out by the facts.”

ATU Local 22’s March 20 rally at Worcester City Hall is slated to feature Chandler, Mayor Joe Petty, Worcester Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray, state Sen. Anne Gobi, state Reps. Dan Donahue, Mary Keefe, James O’Day, Natalie Higgins, Carmine Gentile and John Mahoney, Worcester City Councilwoman Sarai Rivera, and candidate for governor Setti Warren.