The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 11, 2008

Transportation funding a focus of MAGIC discussion

The severity of the Commonwealth’s problems in transportation funding was outlined last week by Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). He spoke at the semiannual legislative breakfast held by the Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC) in Bedford. Draisen said the state runs a $15 to 19 billion annual deficit simply to maintain and repair existing transportation, a circumstance that leaves no money for expansion or improvement in the system.

For example, Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority (MBTA) fares account for only 50% of operating revenue. Employee fringe benefits currently consume 44% of MBTA’s fare revenue and are expected to amount to 94% by 2026. The MBTA has a maintenance backlog of $2.7 billion and a debt of $5.2 billion, much of it from the central artery/tunnel project.

This lack of available state funds for transportation maintenance, repair, improvement and expansion affects every Carlisle resident who commutes on congested, pot-holed roads, who wishes for a fix to the Concord Rotary and Crosby’s Corner problems, who wants more footpaths, who needs access to public transportation but finds no parking space at the train station, and who tries to cope with almost nonexistent rural transportation.

Transportation costs

challenges state and region

Draisen believes “the single thing” that would change the transportation picture “is for the legislature to move money into the system.” He says it is necessary to “either retain the current level of funding and postpone services, or raise revenues” and adds “if you want to solve problems you need to raise taxes.”

While most legislators do not want to raise taxes, a fact acknowledged by Carlisle representative Cory Atkins, she also emphasizes that the state needs revenue now if it is to deal with transportation problems. Major improvements, such as Crosby’s Corner and the Concord rotary, have been approved for years but no funds have been released to go ahead with them because the money is not available. Projects can be suddenly bumped from the approved funding list, if a bridge washes out or another emergency occurs.

Legislative priorities

Several bills being considered by the current state legislature could impact the MAGIC area, if passed, and are key MAPC priorities. Information about them comes from MAPC handouts at the March 31 meeting in Bedford. They include:

District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA) provides technical assistance to regional planning agencies such as MAGIC, for reasons which include: economic development, zoning and permitting, land use planning and other growth issues. MAPC urges legislators to include $2.8 million in their budget for this program.

Intermunicipal agreements (SB2401). This initiative gives towns flexibility to work with other communities by allowing Selectmen to enter into intermunicipal agreements without going through Town Meeting. However, Town Meeting retains authority over appropriations to fund such agreements. This bill is currently on the House calendar and has already passed the Senate

Community Preservation Act (CPA) reform legislation (SB137). This bill affects Carlisle because of the demand for CPA funding in town. The state Department of Revenue projects that next year state grants to CPA communities will only match 65% of local CPA revenues, compared to the 100% match that communities have received since the program was adopted in 2002. Funds may decrease to as low as 30% in 2010 for two reasons: because of the increasing popularity of the program, and the slump in the real estate market.Fees from the registry of deeds supply the funding for the state matching grants. Fee collection decreased when the real estate market slowed.

SB137 proposes to guarantee the long term health of the CPA matching grants by increasing registry of deeds fees, and it proposes to streamline administration and broaden participation in the program. This bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business and has an extension order for action by the committee until April 25 of this year.

Surplus State Land Disposition Reform. Several surplus land disposition bills have been filed this session: SB57, HB55 and HB4506. MAPC feels all of these offer an improvement to the current system, including directing funding to MGL Chapter 40R, a state program meant to increase the supply of mixed-income housing in the state. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito