“Group seeks debt relief for the T”
A coalition of lawmakers and public interest groups plans to file legislation tomorrow requiring the state to take over a portion of the MBTA’s debt, allowing the transit agency to become less dependent on fare increases and to spend more on maintaining the rail and bus system and improving service.
In return, the bill would bar the T from raising fares beyond the local cost-of-living index. If that provision had been in effect, it would have reduced the fare increase that on Jan. 1 raised the price of one-way subway rides from $1.25 to $1.70 and bus trips from 90 cents to $1.25.
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“The T has serious financial problems that go way beyond fixing through efficiencies and fare increases,” said Eric Bourassa of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group . “The T’s huge debt challenges the long-term viability of the authority and needs to be seriously addressed by the Legislature.”
The bill, which will be introduced by Senator Jarrett T. Barrios and Representatives Alice K. Wolf and Carl M. Sciortino Jr., calls for the state to accept $2.9 billion of the T’s $5 billion debt ($8.1 billion if interest is included). The state paid the T’s debts until the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s funding system was changed seven years ago to make the authority more fiscally responsible. As part of the change, the MBTA took on $2.9 billion in existing debt from the state. The proposal is the first legislative attempt to relieve any of that burden.
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The T’s debt is now the highest of any transit agency in the nation, with payments and interest of $370 million annually eating up 27 percent of the T’s operating budget.
“That’s not money being invested to expand service,” said Daniel A. Grabauskas , the T’s general manager. “It’s a very difficult situation.”