Feb. 14, 2012
BOSTON — Greater Boston lawmakers are growing increasingly worried about plans by the MBTA to cut service and raise fares. They sought input on Tuesday from think tanks on possible ways to stave off the cuts — but they're running into opposition from lawmakers on the Cape and in the western part of the state.
Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown said transportation funding is an issue that pits region against region, member against member.
"People ask me are there differences or fights between Democrats and Republicans, and I say, 'No, it's more regional challenges, often between a city driven agenda and an agenda that benefits us in rural areas,' and this is a classic example of that," she said.
To close a budget gap, the MBTA is planning to cut late-night and weekend service on the commuter rail and to raise fares on the T by as much as 43 percent and service cuts on the commuter rail. In all, 78 communities in the Commonwealth out of 351 cities and towns would be affected.
Elizabeth Weyant of the advocacy group MassPIRG said the Legislature needed to head off the cuts: "We need to look at a list of revenue options. No stone should be left unturned in looking at sources of potential funds."
Among the solutions she proposed were increasing car registration fees, open road tolling and raising the gas tax.
But for legislators like State Sen. Ben Downing of Pittsfield, raising the gas tax is a non-starter. He said his constituents in Western Mass. shouldn’t have to pay for a system they don’t use.
“$27 million in our sales tax a year from the Berkshires goes to fund the T. We get $1.8 million back to run our entire [regional transit system]. There’s nothing fair or equitable about that. We shouldn’t compound that,” he said.
MassINC, a nonpartisan think tank, has suggested a more regional funding approach, like increasing the payroll tax in the Boston area instead of statewide tax increases. But it’s unclear if any of these solutions will take hold. Lawmakers have shown little appetite for raising any kind of taxes, especially in an election year.