Surging sales tax helping T balance budget

Spending rising on safety, bus, commuter rail initiatives

THE MBTA IS FACING intense pressure to increase operations spending on safety and other initiatives, but some of the higher expenditures are being offset by an unexpected surge in sales tax revenues.

The growth in sales tax revenues is coming at a time when policymakers on Beacon Hill have been bickering about T funding. Lawmakers last week pared back a supplemental appropriation for the T from $50 million to $32 million; the Baker administration described the full $50 million as a high priority.

David Panagore, the T’s chief administrative officer, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday that it’s likely the T will have to take some of the money it had set aside for capital projects this year and use those funds to balance the operating budget. He is currently forecasting a fairly modest hit of just over $5 million because the T’s share of state sales tax revenues is growing so fast – up an estimated $51 million over the guaranteed base amount.

Those additional sales tax revenues are offsetting declines in parking revenue and rising costs for overtime, wages, fuel, paratransit services, and a series of new initiatives. The new initiatives include $11.2 million this year for safety efforts; $700,000 to begin planning a new, more subway-like commuter rail system; and $1.2 million for bus system improvements.

The T had been planning on using $37 million it had set aside from a $127 million legislative appropriation for capital projects to balance this year’s budget, but Panagore said he is currently estimating the T will need at least $42.2 million.

The need for more money is coming even as overall expenses at the T were $9.2 million below budgeted targets through the end of October and revenues were $11.3 million above targets. Commuter rail revenue is running $10 million ahead of forecasts while subway and bus revenue is running $4 million below forecasts.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Cost pressures are likely to keep increasing on the operating budget. The T is currently estimating its planned bus improvements will cost $25.7 million in fiscal 2021, while safety improvements will cost $21.2 million and the ongoing commuter rail makeover will add another $1.9 million.

There are still six months left in the current fiscal year.