FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Barbara Anderson
Over our decades of taxpayer activism, we have often crossed paths with the MBTA. In December, 1980, a few weeks after the voters passed Proposition 2½, our new law was changed to address that year’s T crisis.
There was a one-day shutdown due to lack of funds, and plenty of reporting on the outrageous work rules of the T’s Carmen’s Union (e.g., crews waiting for the one union member who could change a lightbulb.) So the Legislature approved a change in work rules and a major change in the governing structure of the MBTA, in return for more funding.
Unfortunately, this funding required a change in Prop 2½, which, as passed by voters, limited assessments by public authorities on the cities and towns to no more than 4% over the previous year’s assessment. The new plan assessed payments based on communities’ proportionate share of the T’s deficit. We objected, but in the end were persuaded by Gov. Ed King to allow these necessary reforms. The cities and towns were given an Advisory Board to oversee their “contributions”.
Speaking of funding: in 1974, voters passed a constitutional amendment allowing highway tax use for public transportation. The argument was that a viable public transportation system would take pressure off the highways and make driving a nicer experience; we voters fell for it by 58.4 percent.
Later in the ‘80s, we were at a State House Dukakis/Salvucci news conference that was selling the Big Dig; proponents were asked if that project would take money away from local road and bridge projects. Concerned local officials were assured that it would not. Seemed an obvious lie, along with the low estimated cost of the project, but this couldn’t be proven until it was too late.
Later, it seemed insane to put Big Dig debt onto the MBTA, which still had its own funding problems: some argument was made about keeping cars off the wonderful new roadway. And, it continued to expand instead of doing maintenance.
Most recently, the T was given a penny of the state sales tax in return for giving up some of the most egregious pension abuses, but this only worked going forward – it would (may) take bankruptcy to address some of the outrageous pension benefits that were negotiated during the Dukakis Administration.
Somewhere in State House archives is a report released by Democrat leader Patricia McGovern, Senate Ways & Means Chairman, warning about the accelerating number of independent authorities, roughly 25 years ago.
The reason many state government functions were placed into independent authorities is that legislators didn’t want aggravation from their constituents when services weren’t efficiently provided. After a rough beginning, this strategy worked with the MWRA and its competent director. It’s not working with the T, which has abused its mission and the taxpayers until finally, with an extraordinarily self-serving, incompetent director, it reached the inevitable collapse this month.
Now the Pioneer Institute recommends that the Board (see above) be eliminated in order to fix the fiscal/operational problems that the Board didn’t address, while a receiver takes over. Receivership worked for Chelsea: it’s worth a try with the T.
The last thing that should be tried is giving an unreformed, unaccountable MBTA more revenue. It already gets 49% of the gas tax, 1 penny of the 6.25% sales tax, and fares (from now stranded customers). A few liberal legislators have actually filed a bill to create local option sales or payroll taxes – even property tax increases — with revenues dedicated to transportation, however that is defined after the system takes care of itself with its pay, benefits and expense accounts.
One of the vital legitimate functions of government is a transportation system. But we are paying more than enough for this one. Any sane taxpayer asked to “contribute” more to this ongoing boondoggle would say no.
Let’s try receivership, and if that doesn’t work, bankruptcy.