The MBTA would receive $187 million from the legislature under the state budget proposal Gov. Charlie Baker filed Wednesday. The figure would mark a steady line item from last year for the fiscally challenged agency.
The appropriation would supplement dedicated state funding for the T, which comes from a share of the sales tax that goes to the transit agency each year. The dedicated funding is projected to increase slightly next year to about $1 billion. Between the dedicated funding and the $187 million in discretionary funding, the MBTA would receive about $1.19 billion in state funding next fiscal year, which begins in July.
The $187 million is not a surprise, having been recommended by the Fiscal and Management Control Board that oversees the T in its year-end report in December. It’s also the same amount of additional funding Baker proposed, and the legislature approved, in last year’s budget. Then, the appropriation was intended to plug a projected gap in the T’s operating budget of about $170 million this fiscal year.
Next fiscal year, the T’s budget gap is projected to grow to $242 million. However, the control board expects to knock the gap down significantly, if not entirely, by cutting costs, fare hikes, and new revenue from internal sources such as advertising and real estate.
Still, the control board said in its report last month that even if the T’s operating budget shortfall were filled, the $187 million would be nice to have for capital spending, which includes repair and maintenance.
The T’s repair backlog was estimated earlier this year at higher than $7.3 billion. The control board has signaled that fixing the existing system should be considered high priority, and Baker has set a goal of putting $1 billion per year into capital investments on the T.
“If the Legislature were to continue that level of annual funding [$187 million], rather than using it to cover growing budget deficits, the MBTA could instead use this funding to make badly needed investments in the core system, from new technology and repairs to aging signals and other infrastructure to customer-facing enhancements,’’ wrote the board, whose members were appointed by Baker last summer.
The notion was reinforced in the executive summary of Baker’s state budget plan. Noting that the control board recommended the appropriation, the summary says the $187 million “should be viewed as a resource that will allow the MBTA to increase spending on maintenance, State of Good Repair, and other capital needs.’’
The executive summary also says the appropriation could be used to help cover debt payments and costs associated with transferring some employees’ wages from the T’s capital budget to its operating budget.
Transit advocates have called for more funding for the T in the coming fiscal year. Several advocates last year recommended the control board request $261 million from the state for next fiscal year, a figure based on past budget gap projections.
Rafael Mares, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, is one of them. He said Wednesday that if Baker’s budget proposal had gone up to $261 million for the T, the agency could have put most of the money to repair work while also limiting the need for the expected fare hikes this summer.
“If they put that in, they would not have to talk about a fare increase at all,’’ he said.
Baker’s budget also calls for $80 million for the state’s 15 regional transit authorities, a $2 million decrease from last year.