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The MBTA is one step closer to making significant service cuts, and possibly increasing fares, after the MBTA advisory board voted Thursday to slash the T's 2010 budget by $160 million.
Members of the MBTA advisory board themselves call the cuts "draconian." But state law requires the panel to authorize a balanced budget. Faced with a projected $160 million deficit, board members say they had to make cuts, mostly through massive reductions to MBTA wages and benefits. The T's general manager, Dan Grabauskas, says that means future service reductions are all but guaranteed.
"If I'm really going to have to cut to balance the budget, I'm going to have to cut people, which means I'm going to have to cut service," Grabauskas said. "So, it's service cuts or it's fare increases, or it's some other source of revenue, and if that other source of revenue doesn't meet up with our deficit, I've only got those other two things to do."
Grabauskas is looking to the legislature for that other source of revenue. The House and Senate have both passed budgets that would boost the state sales tax to 6.25 percent. Two-hundred-seventy-five million of new tax receipts would go to transportation, and $100 million of that to stave off a major toll increase scheduled to take effect on the Massachusetts Turnpike on July 1.
Legislative leaders have been less vocal about further funding for the MBTA. Transportation Committee Co-Chairman Joseph Wagner said this week he believes the T might not get a bailout that's big enough to avoid a fare increase.
That's a scenario that frustrates Green Line commuter Karim Emenika.
"That's not a good idea at all — they just raised it, what, a year ago, and it seems like, you know, service got worse since then," Emenika said.
Further down the platform at Kenmore station, the possibility that service may be drastically diminished has rider Dick Sullivan throwing his hands up in resignation.
"I mean if it's going to happen, what can you do?" Sullivan said. "They originally talked about, no weekend and evening service on some lines? That's gonna be a real bummer."
The T's new budget goes into effect July 1. In reality, it would take several months of public hearings before the authority finalizes what layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts it would make to close its deficit.
But that would only get the T through the next fiscal year. Payments on its $8.2 billion debt load are scheduled to increase by $30 million in FY 2011.
And the lack of legislative discussion around that ballooning debt is what most frustrates the very group forced to make this round of budget cuts. The MBTA advisory board represents cities and towns served by the T. Newton Mayor David Cohen chairs the board.
"Those have been financial issues that the advisory board has been speaking out about for the last five years," Cohen said. "So basically we are in the position today that we have been talking about for the last five years."
Cohen says without a fundamental restructuring of the MBTA's long term funding plan, they'll be talking about it for years to come.
This program aired on May 29, 2009.
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