Governor Maura Healey said Monday she would “wait to see” about long-term funding solutions for the state’s largest transit agency, which faces an estimated $628 million operating budget shortfall come July.
Healey has proposed funding to help get the T through the coming year and appointed a task force to look at how to fund the T long term, with a report due by December.
Asked if she is willing to raise taxes as part of the long-term funding solution for the T, Healey said she wants to gather more information.
“I’m going to wait to see what the task force comes to me with in terms of recommendations,” she said. “I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals until I see things.”
The T’s operating budget gap — the vast difference between money coming in and money going out for operations — is not new, but it has grown larger in recent years as federal pandemic help has nearly dried up and fare revenue is down.
While other states stepped in last year to bridge their largest transit systems’ budget gaps with new revenue sources that provide additional operations funding, the MBTA is still waiting for a long-term fix.
And funds from the new tax on the state’s highest earners meant to shore up transportation and education investments haven’t been enough to fill the gap.
Healey is proposing to use $172 million from the so-called “millionaire’s tax” funds to narrow the T’s budget gap for the fiscal year that starts in July. Even if the Legislature approves her proposal, the T estimates it will need to identify savings of $93 million and spend all $363 million from its rainy day fund to balance its budget, according to T chief financial officer Mary Ann O’Hara’s board presentation last month.
Healey is also contending with a slump in state tax revenue that forced her to cut back hundreds of millions from programs that provide things like outreach for seniors, behavioral health supports, and homeless shelters.
“The budget that we filed is fiscally responsible,” Healey said Monday of her spending plan for the fiscal year. “Revenues are down and so we have to manage our spending carefully.”
As time passes, the T’s financial needs to operate day-to-day service are only projected to grow. The T estimates its budget gap could hit nearly $700 million next year and $863 million by 2028.
“I’m confident that we will have the very best and the brightest around the table,” Healey said of the new task force. “As governor, I have not been afraid to take this head on, and this administration is not going be about kicking the can down the road, which, frankly, is what has happened for far too long. It’s why we’re in the hole that we have been in that we’re digging out of.”
Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt said the task force will meet for the first time at the end of this month, leaving it 10 months to issue its final report.
Phillip Eng, the MBTA’s general manager, said the agency will have to do some “tightening of the belt” to get through the next fiscal year, even with the governor’s proposed funding. He’s working to make the agency more efficient with the money he’s given, he said.
“That means really holding ourselves accountable — on time, on budget — and making sure that when we start work, we give ourselves the ability to do it properly, timely, and effectively,” he said.
He said a solution to bridge the growing gap between the money the T has and the money it needs can be found by December.
“I think it’s just very tough decisions that may have to be made,” Eng said.