The state Senate agreed Tuesday evening to tap $49 million from a little-known state surplus to help the MBTA close its deficit for the coming year and avoid steeper fare increases than those already scheduled for July 1.
The Senate plan mostly lines up with a measure approved by the House last week and sets the stage for the proposal to reach the desk of Governor Deval Patrick by a looming deadline at the end of next week. That would close all but about a $6 million gap in the T’s nearly $1.8 billion budget for the coming year, a hole transportation officials say they can fill without needing additional state money or imposing more pain on riders.
The state aid is a one-year fix, and the debate Tuesday was a prelude to larger and potentially more contentious discussion on Beacon Hill about the state’s transportation funding crisis, with the possibility of dedicated transportation taxes on the horizon.
“I’m happy we’re able to get this legislation passed today, and I’m hopeful for the continued passion to be part of the discussion for all of us together” next year, said Senator Thomas M. McGee, the Lynn Democrat who serves as Senate chairman on the Joint Transportation Committee. He said minor differences between the House and Senate versions should be ironed out well before the June 30 deadline. “We’re hoping we can get this done quickly.”
The bill sends $49 million to the T from a surplus generated by motor vehicle inspection sticker fees while directing $2 million from that account to 15 regional transit authorities that provide bus service elsewhere in Massachusetts. It also sends those bus agencies $1.5 million from about $5 million remaining in the state’s highway snow-and-ice budget after a mild winter, allowing Patrick’s administration to direct the remainder to the T.
The 26-9 vote came after nearly eight hours of debate and exposed tension in the Legislature about the extent to which the state subsidizes the T, with frustration voiced by lawmakers from Western Massachusetts and from the Republican minority.