T running out of options on budget cuts
As service cuts eliminated, spending pressure increases
THE MBTA’S OVERSIGHT BOARD is running out of options to pare back spending in the coming fiscal year.
The T wants to balance its fiscal 2018 budget without touching $187 million expected to be provided by the Legislature. To do that, the T has estimated it needs to find $42 million in cuts plus another $5 million in spending reductions to offset plans to hire approximately 54 new people in transit operations.
Two weeks ago, T officials urged the Fiscal and Management Control Board to adopt a series of measures to reduce overall spending on operations by $47 million, including halting weekend commuter rail (projected savings of $10 million), paring back paratransit service to the geographic area required by the Americans with Disabilities Act ($7 million savings), and privatizing or using the threat of privatization to wring $28 million in savings out of bus repair garages.
Gov. Charlie Baker has already taken the elimination of weekend commuter rail service off the table. The Fiscal and Management Control Board indicated on Monday that it is inclined to kill the paratransit service cut. And there appears to be growing consensus on the board that the T needs to spend more than $5 million on adding workers to the operations department.
Joseph Aiello, chair of the control board, suggested putting Lang’s motion on hold temporarily to give the T and members of the disabled community a chance to come up with alternative spending cuts in The Ride program by April 10. Lang said he considered Aiello’s amendment a friendly one, and voted unanimously with the other board members to approve it.
The board’s attitude toward the bus maintenance privatization initiatives is hard to read. Business groups, who have formed the FixOurT Coalition, testified in support of privatization on Monday, while the machinists union that would be most affected strenuously objected.
Mike Vartabedian, the area director of the union, told the control board his members are willing to negotiate wage and work rule concessions to avoid privatization of their jobs. The Carmen’s Union, the T’s largest union, negotiated such an agreement in December. Vartabedian said T officials so far have refused to sit down and talk with union officials.
Jeffrey Gonneville, the T’s chief operating officer, urged the board to approve an extra $5 million to hire more staff in the operations department at the agency. He detailed 54 new hires that he said were needed. Board members asked for a lot more details on how many workers would actually be added, but one board member, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, said she was skeptical $5 million in additional spending on new workers would be sufficient.
“It doesn’t seem like this is enough,” she said.Gonneville acknowledged he had initially asked that more employees be added, but said the $5 million request should be enough for now to start building out the operations department.
The MBTA wants to use all of its $187 million appropriation from the Legislature for longer-term investments in the transit agency. It doesn’t appear that will be possible in fiscal 2018, given the desire not to implement service cuts.