The state’s top transportation official warned Monday that commuters could face even steeper fare increases and more severe service cuts unless legislators allow the MBTA to tap $51 million from a little-known surplus in a fund fed by motor vehicle inspections.
“We don’t have a contingency in place,’’ Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said. “We’d have to go back to our board and talk about how we could close that. It’s a position we’d prefer not to be in.’’
The plea from Davey was met with skepticism from some lawmakers on the Joint Transportation Committee who questioned the fairness of directing the surplus from the statewide fund to the T.
The House chairman on the committee, Representative William Straus, told Davey he would prefer that some of the surplus from the car inspection fund be diverted to local bus systems in smaller cities beyond Boston.
“I don’t want to belabor the point, but I want to let you know that’s an issue,’’ said Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat. “And to the extent that creates a gap in the MBTA’s planning for the next fiscal year’s budget, it’s something from my perspective that we need to work on.’’
Nearly $38 million of the $51 million, or close to 75 percent, earmarked from the motor vehicle inspection fund came from inspections in the population-dense cities and towns of the MBTA’s service area, Davey said.
Representative Michael J. Finn, a West Springfield Democrat, pointed out that the Springfield area’s Pioneer Valley Transit Authority is also facing a fare increase, without the promise of additional state aid.
“This is indicative of where we are in the Commonwealth,’’ Davey said, noting that the regional bus agencies, the highway system, and the T have languished from insufficient investment and relying too heavily on borrowing in a state reluctant to approve taxes to support transportation. He said he would try to find a few hundred thousand dollars to aid the Pioneer Valley bus system for fiscal 2013, while asking lawmakers to work toward “a long-term funding fix to address our statewide transportation funding.’’
In addition to the $51 million auto inspection surplus, the bill from Governor Deval Patrick’s administration also asks lawmakers to cap damages in lawsuits against the T at $100,000, saving an estimated $4 million a year. It would allow the T to coordinate with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to seek Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements for some trips provided by The Ride, the door-to-door service for people with disabilities.
Straus and the committee’s Senate chairman, Thomas M. McGee, did not predict how the committee would vote but said they expect the panel to act within three to four weeks.