By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 27, 2012……With a new fiscal year set to dawn Sunday and the MBTA’s proposed budget far out of whack, the Legislature on Wednesday approved a bill delivering an emergency bailout, largely by redirecting millions of dollars in auto inspection fees to the agency.
The final version of the bill cleared the House 127-24 and passed the Senate 27-9. Supporters said the bailout was needed to rescue the massive transit agency that serves as a transportation lifeline for many in eastern Massachusetts. Opponents described an agency “out of control” and turning to taxpayers after spending recklessly.
The bill provides $49 million in inspection fees to the T and sends $3.5 million to regional transit authorities. With Gov. Deval Patrick’s signature, the bill would become law.
Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey in March suggested tapping into the Motor Vehicle Inspection Trust Fund to bail the MBTA out of a $160 million budget gap that is largely being addressed with an average 23 percent fare hike sent to take effect on Sunday.
Davey and Patrick got almost as much as the $51 million in fee revenues they originally sought for the T but not before absorbing some outrage from critics, who criticized the transit authority’s management.
“There is either a conspiracy of ignorance in that transportation building or there is a culture of arrogance,” said Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole), who said the transit authority is outdated and mismanaged and voted against the bill when it came before the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.
Senators were piqued by an Ernst & Young audit presented Tuesday, which revealed “gaps” in the MBTA’s management procurement and inventory of materials.
“We can decide whether to subsidize the kinds of things that are going on in this report,” said Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “Or we can decide to say to the folks at home right now, who are afraid that the trains may not run sometime soon, or the bus may not be there on the schedule that it’s on now or that when they get into their car they’re going to be charged even more to pay for these kinds of problems. Maybe we could say to them that we are good stewards.”
Members of the MBTA Board of Directors in early June ripped the House and Senate for not passing the bailout quickly enough, and one senator took the opportunity to respond.
“Spend, spend, spend, and then ask the question: Do we know where the inventory is?” said Tarr, who described the MBTA as “an agency whose philosophy is spend first, ask questions later.”
There is little disagreement among state officials that there are significant problems throughout the MBTA and the rest of the transportation system.
“We have a broken transportation system. It was broken when we inherited it five years ago, it was disorganized, mismanaged and inefficient in many respects,” Patrick said during a press conference in March, adding, “The system remains underfunded. I think everyone knows that.”
The bailout would be a one-time fix, but lawmakers expect to revisit transportation financing and policy next year.
An emergency preamble was added to the bill so that it will take effect immediately after it is signed into law.
The bailout bill sends $49 million from the inspection trust fund to the MBTA and $2 million from the trust to regional transit authorities, which can only then be used for “preventative maintenance expenses”. It would also send $1.5 million from the snow and ice budget to regional transit authorities.
The final version, which was rewritten by the House, includes slightly lower penalties for far evasion, though they are higher than the current $15 fine for the first offense.
The Senate version (S 2317), like Patrick’s original version, would have increased the fines to $75 for first offense and up to $350 for the third offense. The House version (H 4215), which will be sent to Patrick’s desk, has a fine schedule of $50 for a first offense and $300 for a third offense. The new version poised to become law also increases to 30 days, the amount of time offenders have to pay their bill or request a hearing, up from 21 in the previous Senate version. Those who attempt to “fraudulently evade” a fare by using a fake ticket or other means would be subject to a fine of between $50 and $500 under the legislation.
The bill requires the MassDOT Board of Directors to hold six public hearings and then submit a long-term transportation plan, which would include recommendations for new revenues that could be used for transportation.
The bill also requires MassDOT and MassPort to submit reports on the procedures that would need to be taken to transfer ferry service from the MBTA to Massport, which oversees Logan International Airport and the Port of Boston. The legislation also instructs the governor’s administration to submit a report on the effect of fare hikes on the seniors and people with disabilities by Jan. 1, 2013.
[Michael Norton contributed reporting]