Does the state need to adopt additional tax increases to address the problems of the MBTA and its overall transportation needs?
Yes: Robert Fitzpatrick, a Newton attorney, is a member of Progressive Massachusetts and the secretary of the Newton Democratic City Committee
These are tough times for Boston commuters. Record snowfall totals this winter created massive traffic snarls and shone a harsh spotlight on the MBTA’s deficiencies. In February the T’s general manager resigned and Governor Baker appointed a commission to study the agency’s problems.
None of this is new. In 2009, a similar commission appointed by Governor Patrick found that the MBTA’s “Forward Funding” scheme adopted in 2000 was based on unrealistic cost and revenue assumptions and concluded that the “Outlook Is Bleak.” Even with five fare hikes since 2001, the T runs at a structural operating deficit and has taken on significant additional debt.
The MBTA’s ongoing difficulties are at best an inconvenience, at worst a threat to survival. Many low-wage workers can be fired if they’re late, but must rely on our unreliable public transit system to reach their jobs. And our transportation troubles are not limited to the T. Greater Boston is a densely populated area with a byzantine network of old, narrow roads and bridges in equally bad shape. Traffic is awful, and MassDOT projected it would get 23 percent worse between 2013 and 2023.
In 2013, MassDOT concluded that additional infrastructure investment for roads and transit of about $1 billion annually for ten years would get us out of this mess. That sounds big, but it’s less than half the $2.3 billion that the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2013 estimated Massachusetts motorists spend annually on repairs and increased operating costs due to the poor condition of our chronically underfunded roads. Instead of acting to address this glaring need, the governor and Legislature just decreased MassDOT’s funding by $40 million. Penny wise, pound foolish.
It shouldn’t be this way. We need a comprehensive plan to get people from A to B more efficiently, including by expanding — not just maintaining — public transit. Our quality of life and continued economic development depend on it. We are told we can’t afford to maintain existing transportation spending, let alone make the additional investments needed to fix our system. In reality, we can’t afford not to address our infrastructure woes. Even if it means facing that other dreaded “T,” taxes.
No: Senator Richard J. Ross, a Wrentham Republican, is assistant minority leader in the state Senate
Massachusetts faces serious challenges when it comes to transportation, particularly with the MBTA, but the problems do not stem solely from a lack of funding, and raising taxes is not the answer.
The failures, specifically pertaining to the MBTA, stem from a history of mismanagement as well as a lack of sufficient oversight measures from the Legislature. Citing financial statements on the MBTA’s website, the Pioneer Institute reported that owing in part to an increase in the sales tax in 2009 and the gas tax in 2013, the MBTA’s revenue grew from just over $1.1 billion in 2001 to over $1.9 billion in 2014. Despite that increase in funding and revenue, the Boston Herald reported that for the last five years the MBTA has neglected to file reports outlining the transportation system’s maintenance needs. In the midst of constant performance failures, costly expansion efforts to the South Coast and Foxborough continue to be proposed, reflecting poor planning and a clear misallocation of resources.
In February, Senate Republicans put forward legislation to financially stabilize the MBTA by creating a seven-member Finance Control Board that would gain immediate control of the MBTA’s finances. The board would first establish a plan to correct historical inefficiencies, and put the transit system back into full service operation as soon as possible. The legislation would also provide an interest-free loan to the MBTA, to be repaid in full, so the newly established board can implement the necessary procedures and structural changes it feels necessary to correct the direction of the organization.
If sufficient progress has not been met, the MBTA Finance Control Board could ultimately be dissolved in favor of a receiver who would take over the board’s responsibilities.
This is by no means the only solution, but we cannot continue to throw money at a problem and expect it go away. The Legislature’s answer to addressing the state’s transportation needs cannot be to simply burden our constituents with more taxes and fare increases. The Legislature’s answer should be a holistic, all-of-the-above approach. Complex problems require complex solutions.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org