Jim Aloisi’s latest piece on the MBTA in Commonwealth Magazine is really a must-read. Don’t take my too-long-didn’t-read summation here. While Aloisi praises the T staff that seem to be doing the best they can with inadequate resources, he takes Governor Baker to the woodshed. Since 2015, when he took ownership of an agency already in crisis, Baker has exhibited a lack of leadership in providing what it desperately needed: Funding.
If there has been a big disappointment in all of this it has come from the very top. The week after the derailment we had the governor and his transportation secretary assuring everyone who would listen that there’s enough money available for the repair and modernization program the system obviously needs. This “we don’t need more money” mantra continues despite the clear and acknowledged inability of the T to get more work out the door – largely a failure of insufficient resources that only additional revenue will provide.
More to the point, even the $8-9 billion available for repair and modernization over the coming five years is not enough to get the job done at either the pace or the scale necessary. Getting our public transportation system to a condition where it can properly support our economy and overall society means an investment in repair, modernization, and strategic connectivity projects on a schedule and at a scale well beyond current thinking. This isn’t hyperbole. That’s how you get out of a crisis. This transportation crisis is not the sole fault of the current administration; this failure has been decades in the making and bipartisan in nature. But it is the responsibility of this administration as the current caretakers of the public interest to act decisively in a manner that matches the need.
Like George H.W. Bush’s ill-fated “no new taxes” pledge, Gov. Baker’s insistence that we could get by cheaply was doomed to failure. Whether out of ideological rigidity or genuine wishful thinking, I’m sure it seemed politically safe in 2015 to Baker. In fact, it was an enormous gamble, with both Governor Baker’s political “capital” and a functional transit system pushed to the center of the table.
As John Walsh pointed out on Twitter (and has been doing for years), the legislature is equally if not more culpable for penny-wise/pound-foolish austerity — and blaming leadership is no excuse. State reps haven’t used their leverage to effect tangible change on behalf of their T-riding constituents, instead choosing to tread water and keep their committee positions. That was also a years-long gamble that did not pay off.
Perhaps today is a new day; I see new reps Tami Gouveia, Tommy Vitolo, and Maria Robinson (et al) prominently championing the T; the Speaker claims to want to pass interim funding before the Grand Arrival of the Millionaire’s Tax some years hence. Grand.
But all this is late. Years late. “We don’t need more money” was a bluff that’s now being called. Someone tell the Governor.