With lawmakers continuing to fight over a transportation rescue plan, the board that oversees the T adopted a budget Wednesday with a $118 million hole that the agency hopes that Beacon Hill will fill, avoiding steep fare increases and harsh service cuts.
The $1.9 billion budget passed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board includes a contingency plan if the Legislature does not come up with the money.
House members passed a $500 million transportation finance bill Monday that includes $125 million for the MBTA next year. But if Governor Deval Patrick vetoes the legislation because it falls short of his $1.9 billion plan and the Legislature does not override the vetom, the T will be left to close the gap on its own.
Jonathan Davis, chief financial officer of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, outlined the austerity measures that will have to be taken if the State House does not come to the rescue: dramatic fare increases; elimination of bus service on the least popular lines; and, ultimately, a complete downsizing of the T.
MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott said she is praying it does not come to that.
Scott pointed out that the fare increases would not affect users of The Ride, the door-to-door transit service for senior citizens and people with disabilities, or students with discounted T passes.
A Senate vote on the transportation finance package was initially scheduled for Thursday, but legislators decided to hold a Saturday session to give members additional time to file amendments. Senate leaders said they hope to have a vote on the bill before the start of school vacation next week, when some members plan to be out of town.
At a meeting in the Back Bay sponsored by the Boston Foundation on Wednesday morning, Representative William M. Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat and cochairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, had harsh words for the governor, saying Patrick had poisoned the spirit of compromise around the bill by suggesting that legislators’ approach was cowardly.
“Clearly, there are some who think that’s cheap — and that somehow people who are willing to stand up to do that lack courage,” Straus said. But, he continued, “$2 billion is just not what the people of Massachusetts would expect.”
The 97-to-55 vote in favor of the House proposal, he said, was a great success. “He’s wrong,” Straus said of Patrick.
“To go around and suggest that the House did something evil by trying to raise taxes and direct it to transportation — I don’t think that’s helped the discussion. I really don’t.”
Straus’s cochairman, Senator Thomas M. McGee, a Democrat of Lynn, said at the same meeting that he believes legislators are committed to focusing on transportation in the long term. “We can’t solve problems created in 22 years in one year,” McGee said. “We need to go further next year and the year after.”
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