MBTA, highway system face vast budget deficits
Just months after the MBTA raised fares, the T faces a $130 million deficit for the next budget year, according to an analysis released Monday by a regional think tank.
But that daunting financial gap is eclipsed by a $240 million shortfall to operate the highway system, the study concluded.
The budget analysis, conducted by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, does not include money to address a vast and growing backlog of repair and replacement needs for everything from rail cars to bridge abutments or to improve transportation across the Commonwealth. The analysis merely reflects the cost of running the system as is and suggests that tax increases, fare hikes, or cuts could be on the horizon.
The T figure, if a shock to commuters still adjusting to the July fare increase, was foreshadowed by officials last spring who acknowledged that the higher prices, coupled with cuts and emergency funding, amounted to a one-time fix.
The highway deficit has not been tallied in this fashion this way before because its budget is balanced by borrowing, which pushes the cost of present-day mowing, striping, and snowplowing far into the future. “The Massachusetts Department of Transportation can’t actually operate on the operating budget that it has or that it’s been given by the Commonwealth for many, many years, so it does something that anyone who knows business knows is a terrible practice,” said Stephanie Pollack, associate director of the center. “It [borrows] to pay for things that should be in its operating budget.”
The center released the figures as part of an extensive analysis attempting to establish statistical benchmarks to gauge the financial state of the transportation system and to grade it on accessibility, infrastructure health, and regional equity, both annually and against peer states. The center released preliminary findings Monday at a sustainability conference for municipal officials, academics, and environmental and land-use planners and activists.