April 9, 2012
BOSTON — The debate over how to close the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s huge deficit is in lawmakers' hands now. The Legislature's joint transportation committee heard a bill on Monday that would transfer money from a statewide trust fund that's financed by car inspection fees to the T.
Every year Bay State car-owners pay $29 for a car inspection sticker. By law, a portion of that money goes into a fund that’s supposed to support efforts to reduce air pollution. The MBTA bailout bill would divert $51 million of that money to help plug the authority's $160 million budget gap.
State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey has justified using the money by saying that the T improves air quality by getting buses and cars off the road.
But Rep. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett), the chairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, was concerned the MBTA would get help while other cash-strapped regional transit authorities would miss out.
"Any diversion should be reflected to the other transit agencies that provide the same air quality improvements that the MBTA does," he said.
For instance, the Pioneer Valley Transit authority, which operates buses throughout Western Massachusetts is proposing fare increases in areas where 65 percent of the riders are at or below the poverty level.
Davey said he would help ailing regional systems like the PVTA with their problems — just not with car inspection fees. "Last week I directed my staff to find additional solutions that we can help mitigate the fare increases at the PVTA and other RTAs should they come forward with deficits in this fiscal year while we work with them to solve those problems while a broader conversation on transportation finance occurs," he said.
Last week, the MBTA approved an average 23 percent fare increase along with service cuts. Officials warned of deeper cuts in service if lawmakers do not approve the $51 million transfer.