BOSTON (SHNS) – Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that his proposed $40 million reduction in state transportation spending will not have any impact on public transit, which this week has proven unable to keep up performance in the face of heavy snow and cold temperatures.
Baker on Tuesday included the spending reductions as part of his plan to close a $768 million gap in the $36.5 billion state budget he inherited when he was sworn in last month.
The proposed cuts, including $14 million from the MBTA, require legislative approval and come as commuters struggle to get to and from work and appointments on a transit system beset for days by delays and cancellations that officials attribute to snow, cold and antiquated rail system equipment.
“The proposals we’ve made with respect to transportation, the biggest savings has to do with the hiring freeze we put in place at the beginning of the year,” Baker told reporters after a breakfast speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
“That’s where the single biggest piece of the savings is coming from. In addition to that there’s additional fare revenue that’s coming in that was not expected or anticipated and we’ve had several conversations with the leadership over there [at the T] and they’ve said that the other changes, most of which are administrative, that are being proposed aren’t going to have any impact on service between now and the end of the year,” he added.
- For video of Baker’s Q&A session with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce audience, click here.
- For video of Baker answering questions from the press, click here.
A breakdown of the $14 million MBTA cut, as provided by a Baker spokesman on Wednesday, has $5.3 million coming from a hiring freeze and $3.3 million from administrative cuts. Another $5.4 million is expected from unanticipated MBTA revenues associated with a 1.5 percent ridership increase.
The MBTA has a $1.9 billion budget in fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30. Baker’s first annual budget proposal is due by March 4 since new governors are afforded more time to put spending plans together.
“People shouldn’t forget that we did raise the gas tax by three cents a gallon last year, which generated a significant amount of new revenue to support transportation, including transit,” Baker said. “I think it’s important that we incorporate that into our decision making process going forward and we’ll have more to say on this in a couple of weeks.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed Baker’s speech, outgoing chamber president Paul Guzzi asked if Baker’s administration will seek to revive a “public discussion” on the need for additional investments in transportation infrastructure.
“Everybody always wants to spend more money on everything, I get that, okay?” Baker responded. “But I’m going to start this conversation with Stephanie [Pollack, the transportation secretary] and the folks with the T.”
Baker pointed to the Jan. 27 blizzard “that was unlike pretty much any other.”
“I want to spend some time with Stephanie and others talking about this before we just automatically hit the revenue button,” he said.
A House lawmaker who chaired the House side of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee last year said Wednesday that voters’ decision in November to repeal the law indexing future gas tax increases to inflation took $2 billion in transportation spending over ten years off the table.
Asked if he expects a re-opening of the debate over transportation financing on Beacon Hill, Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, told reporters, “There has never been a year when there isn’t a transportation financing question. Sometimes it’s more in the public eye than others. But we deal with transportation financing every year.”