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T to tap reserves to balance budget

Despite higher fares, more riders, and the addition of the new Greenbush commuter rail line, the MBTA still plans to dip into its rainy day fund to balance its next operating budget, the third consecutive year the authority will do so.

In addition, the authority has not set aside any money for new union contracts, MBTA General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas said yesterday.

"That's our challenge, to find the resources to fund those," he said in a telephone interview. Negotiations continue with 29 of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's 30 unions, whose members have been working without contracts since June 2006.

The MBTA plans to take $2.5 million from its reserves for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The T used $10.5 million in emergency funds in fiscal 2006 and $4.7 million in 2007.

Officials blamed lack of growth in the state sale tax, from which the T gets 53.5 percent of its funding, for creating a $37 million shortfall this coming fiscal year.

Fuel prices will also be a strain on finances, as the MBTA, the largest electricity consumer in the Commonwealth, must pay $7.6 million more under a new contract.

The proposed budget also includes 25 technicians for the new fare collection equipment, 28 inspectors to monitor fares at Green Line surface trains, and 34 new MBTA Transit Police officers.

Operating revenue is up, with $35 million coming from the Jan. 1 fare increase, $6.5 million in anticipated revenue from the Greenbush commuter rail line, and $12.8 million in revenue growth and from cutting the number of fare evaders.

But Paul Regan -- executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives of communities served by the T -- pointed out that debt service is projected to eat up $374 million in fiscal 2008 and $436 million in fiscal 2009.

"The big picture is they have to do something to fix revenues or get some debt relief," he said. "I don't think you can grow your way out of this."

The advisory board will review the proposed operating budget before it goes back to the MBTA board of directors for final approval.

Mac Daniel can be reached at mdaniel@globe.com.

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