Don’t Be Fooled

February 18, 2015
By

Like an annoying alarm clock that predictably shouts its tone, late last week and this week several establishment lawmakers and transportation pundits began blaming the MBTA’s implosion on a lack of taxes and on the majority of voters who repealed the automatic gas tax increases last November.

Don’t be fooled, please.

In the daily newspapers and on the broadcast news several came out last week to tell us that the MBTA is just going to require a dedicated tax increase. They told us that years and years of underfunding and deferred maintenance – so as not to increase taxes or rider fares – have put us in the spot we have found ourselves in, that spot being stuck in neutral.

Yawn…

One has to grit their teeth at the audaciousness.

Gritting our teeth as such statements is exactly what those of us who know the T and its excesses and abuses over the last several years have to do; those of us who know a friend or relative who retired before 50 with a pension that is greater than the average Massachusetts worker’s yearly private sector salary. I know retired MBTA workers who – if they live to be 90 – will receive a pension for twice as many years as they worked.

There’s the root of the problem.

Some of the facts that have been put out there this week are that the number of overall employees at the T since 2012 has increased by 900 as finances headed southward.

Some policies have begun to be changed regarding the abusive T retirement and pension system, but we now hear with some frequency this week that the stability of that system – meaning its unfunded liability – has grown eight times as large to near $1 billion.

The T has – to be fair – been in trouble since the 1990s or even before. It has been unsustainable for quite some time, but the recent sin is the major expansion during former Gov. Deval Patrick’s tenure in the face of fiscal instability.

Many forget the drunken exuberance that some Democrats had nationally for regional rail after President Barack Obama was first elected. Even the president, himself, was giddy about “high-speed rail” and outlined a major plan for the expensive mode of transport – one that we can all agree sounds great, but one that most people just don’t buy into when given the choice between it and an automobile.

In 2009, the president agreed to spend a mint in Stimulus money on rail, and wisely, some governors in Wisconsin and Florida rejected the expensive proposition.

All that is like a distant dream now in Washington, D.C., but its effects in Massachusetts are part of what we’re seeing now.

Former Gov. Deval Patrick was all aboard with the idea and expanded rail in several directions – projects that had been deemed fiscally unsound in the previous administration.

That brings us to former Gov. Mitt Romney. Say what you will about him; he had his good and bad points in the Bay State. However, one thing he saw was that the T needed a “circle the wagons” approach. Projects that former Gov. Patrick readily jumped into during the high-speed rail extravaganza were things that Romney rejected.

So, the T expanded and expanded and expanded. Anyone with all the facts and figures could have seen with money leaking like a sieve that such a policy eventually would be catastrophic.

Now we’ve seen and lived the catastrophe that was coming, and the T needs to be cut off, like an addict that has hit the end of the line.

Like several alternative voices out there this week, I think it’s time for desperate measures. The T needs to be put into a receivership situation – as suggested by the Pioneer Institute.

We have seen such things in Chelsea, right outside of Boston, twice. Once for the entire City government, and another time more recently for the Chelsea Housing Authority.

For the most part, it worked.

It will be a mammoth proposition at the T, but someone with a red pen the size of the Prudential building – outside of union strangleholds -needs to be allowed to come in under the oversight of the governor to make wholesale changes.

Firefighters are rescuing hopelessly trapped commuters from T trains by breaking windows with axes.

It’s time for those same axes to be applied to the MBTA.

  • TSupporter

    I’m shocked that someone from such a worldly city as Boston would have such a poorly-thought-out point of view of public transit.
    As someone who opens my eyes while traveling outside the US, I have seen that public transit costs plenty of money, but that the contribution to an economy is well worth the cost. And with investment, transit can actually be surprisingly smooth and pleasurable.
    An automobile economy is laughably less efficient and much costlier. But people constantly ignore the stupendous costs of roads and highways while consistently and hysterically exaggerating the comparably minimal spending on public transit, which actually moves passengers at multiples of the capacity of roads – for a fraction of the cost.
    Traveling to just about any city in the US, with the exception of NYC and maybe DC, I realize that despite some of the horrendous results – like this winter – of people – like this writer – succeeding in stifling the lifeblood of Boston, the T actually performs an amazing function for our local economy when it is allowed to work. And most thinking people – especially young professionals critical to sustainable growth – prize it and wish to contribute to its support either by using it or paying for it.
    Selfishly begrudging T employees’ actually receiving middle class benefits, rather than supporting investment in a world-class transit system that could be more of an impetus for an economy which would allow others to earn more, is neither a solution nor reason to block investment. In any case the increase in staff is probably related to the decrease in budget for equipment that could prevent the need for fixes the staff are required to perform.
    I submit that improving public transit – either by planning for its future health via new routes as the former governor tried, or by properly funding its current costs and allowing repair of a centuries-old system – is the only way to avoid residents’ counter-productively sitting for hours alone, stressed out, in pollution-spewing cars that crawl along interminably.

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