Plans to finish the new Silver Line, expand B Line service and ease trolley congestion will all face the funding woes of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, according to a new study by fiscal watchdog groups.
The MBTA can’t afford its plans for such expansions with resources already stretched to renovate things like rusty tracks and faulty cars, said the study, released Tuesday by the Pioneer Institute and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
MBTA spending was curtailed last year when the state imposed a budget on the agency for the first time, but it continues to spend more than it has, said Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation representative Mike Widmer
“The old system of unlimited state support provided little reason to control spending, but the T now operates in a tight fiscal box, with finite revenue sources, a heavy debt load and high operating costs,” the report reads. The MBTA has several expensive plans on the table, including massive renovations and a new Silver Line. These expansion projects come in addition to the high costs of MBTA maintenance and modernization.
“There is a $3 billion backlog of repair issues, in addition to $5 million in yearly repair costs,” said the principal author of the report, Glen Tepke of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
The study recommends the MBTA maintain and modernize existing facilities, and request the state subsidize expansion.
“We concluded that there is no way the T can do all of these things,” Tepke said.
The only other options are to “underfund the maintenance work, or to pile up an even bigger mountain of debt,” Tepke said. Paying off this debt takes up one-third of the MBTA’s budget.
According to Pioneer Institute President Charles Chieppo, the T gets one-fifth of the state sales tax, raking in $650 million per year. In addition, it receives addition municipal taxes of about $144 million.
The report was compiled from close examination of the MBTA’s “long-range finance plan, the capital plan, and the State of Good Repair Report,” Tepke said.
“We’ve been involved with MBTA finance issues for a long time. We’ve done other reports on their finances in the past,” Tepke said.
Despite their financial situation, the MBTA will begin four weeks of after-hours maintenance at MBTA stops along Commonwealth Avenue between Blandford and Lake Streets on Monday March 4.