Yes: Kevin Loechner, of Hull, a Democratic activist and daily mass transit commuter
If you have ridden public transit lately, you know how frustrating it has been. The experience on our roads hasn’t been much better. Traffic on Route 3A has increased due to major delays and breakdowns on the MBTA’s Greenbush Line and ice in Hingham Harbor. The unusually brutal winter has magnified the underlying structural problems within our transportation infrastructure.
A 2009 report identified more than $3 billion in deferred MBTA maintenance costs. These costs have probably gone up since then. The Federal Highway Administration in 2014 said more than 50 percent of the state’s bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Clearly these issues need to be fixed, and due to the costs involved we will need to increase some taxes in order to pay for them.
The recent winter breakdown of our transportation system is a stark reminder that we need a comprehensive funding plan. A major part of this plan should involve increased income taxes along with a lower sales tax. The current scheme of dedicating part of sales tax revenues toward public transit is insufficient. Relying on gas taxes is not a long-term solution. Increased fuel efficiency and inflation will reduce revenue over the long term with a per-gallon tax. An attempt to partially remedy this issue was rejected by voters in 2014.
Increased income tax revenues will allow more funding to flow to area towns for road improvements. It will also increase funding to other regional transit systems such as the Brockton Area Transit Authority,
Until greater parity between federal matching funds for highways and rail transit can be achieved, we will need to come up with our own solutions. A major part of our solution must include some increased taxes. It’s not a popular solution, but our transportation infrastructure is in dire condition and this winter has exposed all of its flaws.
Our Legislature has kicked the can down the road for too long. Former DOT Secretary Rich Davey has said it will be very difficult to fix transportation issues and provide long-promised expansions without increasing taxes.
We need to raise our voices for a comprehensive solution that includes increased taxes with dedicated funding for transportation maintenance and winter proofing.
No: Vinny de Macedo, a Republican state senator from Plymouth
Recent historic winter storms coupled with corresponding disruptions to MBTA service have understandably caused Massachusetts residents to question whether taxes should be increased to fund the MBTA. But in my opinion higher taxes are not the solution to our transportation needs, and after attending a hearing with Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, I believe it would be irresponsible to increase taxes to fund the MBTA without first resolving the MBTA’s issues with expansion and operations.
While the impulse to extend public transit services to serve more residents is understandable, the MBTA has expanded at a pace that outstrips its financial capabilities. According to the Pioneer Institute, MBTA has expanded more than any other major system in the country over the last 25 years. This focus on expansion appears to have come at the cost of maintenance and replacement of the tracks and trains, as well as efforts to increase the efficiency of the MBTA’s operations.
Since 2001 the MBTA has seen a 64 percent increase in state subsidies as well as a 70 percent increase in overall revenue. However, these increases were accompanied by a 100 percent increase in cost per rider mile to 44 cents per rider mile, over double the 20-cents target mandated by the Legislature. These figures do not even account for the MBTA’s unfunded pension liability or its ever-rising pension and health care costs.
Because the MBTA does not keep an easily accessible database with the condition of vehicles, it is not clear whether these costs are attributable to aging vehicles and trains. Furthermore, new vehicles have been found to not function properly upon delivery (usually late). Past investments in Green Line trolleys were squandered when they had difficulty staying on the rails, and more recent investments in commuter rail cars have yet to come to fruition since the cars are still being retrofitted to be able to interface with the MBTA’s current system.
These issues do not describe an organization meriting increased funding from taxes, but rather better management. I feel it is more important than ever to ensure the MBTA improves its operations before committing more taxpayer money to solve the issues.As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.