During the last few weeks, many constituents have contacted me regarding their concerns about the MBTA and its unacceptable poor service over the past few weeks. I also acknowledge that the commuter rail service on both the Fitchburg and Worcester lines have had problems for many reasons, an example of the underinvestment in the MBTA made by the state.
While I mostly drive into the State House, I do occasionally take the commuter rail from South Acton into North Station, so I have experienced some of the frustrating delays and poor service that you have. In addition, almost my entire staff takes the commuter rail or the subway into work, and they are equally frustrated with getting into work late, canceled trains, and broken-down cars. As a State Senator in Massachusetts who has made and is making key decisions that affect the MBTA, and other transportation systems and infrastructure, I offer you my personal apology for what you have experienced.
Since I first joined the Senate in 2003, I have advocated for increases in revenue, to meet the needs of Massachusetts residents, in a variety of areas, including transportation. While the Legislature raised revenue in 2009, in response to the loss of revenue due to the global financial crisis, and in 2013 to increase funding for the state’s transportation system, both revenue packages fell short, not to mention they were regressive, taxing working families more than the well-off or large corporations.
In 2009, I led the effort with Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz in the Senate to restore the income tax to 5.95%, to raise over $1.2 billion for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the budget amendment only received 10 votes, and was therefore defeated. In 2013, as the Legislature considered a revenue package to fix the MBTA, and other parts of the state’s transportation system, I co-sponsored “An Act to Invest in Our Communities.” The bill would have raised over $2 billion by restoring the income tax to 5.95% while doubling the personal tax exemption (essentially creating a progressive income tax), and raising the capital gains tax. A significant amount of this funding would have been directed to transportation, including the MBTA. Instead, the Legislature passed yet another regressive tax package, providing just over $600 million to the Commonwealth.
With the MBTA crisis becoming more severe over the past few weeks, I am continuing to call for increased investment in the MBTA, and our entire transportation system. Last week, the House and Senate took up Governor Baker’s budget deficit bill, due to a lack of revenue to pay for fiscal year 2015 budget allocations (what the Legislature passed last June that Governor Patrick signed). While it was possible to raise revenue in that bill, which I supported, there was not a majority of support to raise revenue in the bill.
Going forward, here are a few things that I’m doing:
1. I’ve co-sponsored again SD396, An Act to invest in our communities,” filed by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz to raise progressive revenue to fund core essential services in Massachusetts, including the MBTA; I’ve also co-sponsored HD3492, An Act relative to contract assistance for Central Artery debt of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, filed by Representative Sean Garballey, to move the MBTA’s debt to the state, therefore reducing debt service payments that are crippling the MBTA’s maintenance fund.
2. This coming Tuesday, Feb. 24th at 2 pm (please stop by) at the State House, as a co-chair of the MBTA Caucus, I am co-sponsoring a briefing by Transportation for Massachusetts, MASSPIRG, and the Conservation Law Foundation, regarding “Keeping on Track: Our Second Progress Report on Reforming and Funding Transportation Since Passage of the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Act of 2013.”
3. I am speaking out about the need to increase our investment in the MBTA, including on the floor of the Senate, which I did last week. Here is what I said (notes from the State House News Service):
“Sen. Eldridge asked to make a statement. Sen. Eldridge said, I want to commend the lady from Ashland. Obviously it is going to hurt a lot of people. I know her values in protecting those most vulnerable. I also want to commend the gentleman from Quincy for his fiery remarks, as well as the gentleman from Lynn. I want to make the statement though we are just not talking about cuts to our transportation system. I won’t go into detail about the breaking down of our transportation system over the last two weeks. It is important to realize the impact has been felt in every state program and every state agency. Since 2001, we have seen a 23 percent decrease in early education. In higher ed we have seen a 20 percent cut. Public health has suffered from a 25 percent cut. I would argue the problem we have is we have decimated our state budget by targeted tax cuts. That has resulted in a loss of $3.3 billion. In 1995, the Raytheon Co. got a $65 million tax cut. In 1998, the voters passed a cut to the income tax, supported by then-Gov. Cellucci. All those tax cuts have lead to a $3.3 billion revenue loss -cuts to schools, transportation, parks, each and every of these cuts has affected our constituents. Yesterday, we took a tour and every person talked about the need for more investment from our state. There was an openness to support more revenue. I know there is concern that the gas tax is regressive. I would submit given the tax cuts I have just talked about that have benefitted the wealthy and corporations, we need to have a conversation about progressive taxes. That can be a conversation about a progressive income tax. We need to have that conversation now. It is embarrassing. We are nickel and diming our constituents. We need to have this conversation about a progressive tax package sooner rather than later. Because what we are doing today is a small example of what we have been doing for years. We need to reverse this 20 year history of benefitting the wealthy and large corporations…”
There is a lot of work to be done, and we need to pull together to dramatically improve public transportation in Massachusetts. Once again, I am very sorry about the delays and poor service that you have endured. Please stay in touch with my office about what else is going on, to properly fix the MBTA.