Pollack: “Hemorrhaging” MBTA needs tourniquet
Transportation secretary says without state help, T faces $187 million gap
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
THE MBTA HAS an estimated 535 employees on its debt-funded capital budget and without state budget help will run a $187 million deficit next fiscal year, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told lawmakers Tuesday.
Pollack told lawmakers the $187 million request in Gov. Charlie Baker’s fiscal 2016 budget proposal would help the T prepare for next winter and it would be consistent with the 2013 law that raised the gas tax 3 cents per gallon, required the transit system to increase its own revenues and anticipated rising amounts of additional state funding.
“I actually don’t deny that it’s a Band-Aid. It’s not a permanent solution,” Pollack told members of the House and Senate Ways and Means committees at Methuen High School. “One could argue it’s more of a tourniquet. The T’s hemorrhaging and we’ve got to stop the bleeding before we can fix it. We need to fix the T.”
Pollack said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which includes smaller airports and the Registry of Motor Vehicles in addition to roads and railways, plans to make a larger draw from a gas-tax financed fund and would complete the three-year transition of all employees and operating expenses, such as rent, off of the capital budget.
The MBTA’s system of subways, trolleys and commuter rail was pounded by snow and cold, causing equipment failures that led to service being suspended at times and reduced at others.
DePaola said the T will need to contract snow removers, as is the practice at the Highway Division, and purchase machines specifically designed to remove snow and ice from subway tracks.
Within MassDOT, Pollack said she will aim to improve coordination between human resources, legal and procurement offices that were consolidated as part of the 2009 reform law. Pollack told the News Service she was not sure whether a more centralized approach to those functions would produce savings, but she said it would allow the agencies to focus on their core goals of providing transportation service.
Pollack also wants to ratchet up the amount budgeted for MassDOT’s snow and ice removal costs so that it comes closer to the five-year average annual expenditure of $105 million. The secretary would increase the budgeted amount to $55.4 million, up from about $48 million, and add anticipated federal emergency dollars for a total of $72 million available for clearing snow and ice next year.
Seeking some “flexibility” in a tight budget, Pollack also asked for the ability to transfer money from one MassDOT line item to another.
Rep. Chris Walsh, a Framingham Democrat, questioned whether after such a harsh winter, the MBTA is prepared for other non-snow events that could challenge the system.
A task force appointed by Baker to examine the MBTA’s operations, finances and governance is expected to publicly report its findings next week.