The notion that the MBTA 'suddenly' has to cut services and increase fees by 43 percent because of a $160 million budget gap next year reeks of irresponsibility. Not just on the part of the MBTA, but on all parties involved.
People depend on the MBTA. It is a very important public commodity. I am a regular user of the MBTA Providence-Boston line.
Not only how, but why did it come to this? Were there not revenue projections? Did this problem sneak up on us where we did not have a chance to hold hearings over the years? What happened here?
The MBTA – It is inconceivable that the MBTA did not know that its budget was going to be in the red. If the MBTA knew there was going to be a problem, why was more not done earlier?
The Executive Branch – The idea that there is no money to be found, yet there are budget problems in various agencies, is a red flag that there are more problems on the horizon. I don't care if it is a Democrat or Republican administration. This is unacceptable.
The Legislative Branch – Legislators are supposed to watch executive agencies and their activities. Nothing short of laziness or incompetence is why we face this problem. Have individual legislators sounded the warning bell? Perhaps one or several did. But the body did nothing and that is why we are where we are.
The Public – We get the government we deserve. While we place our trust in our elected officials, our responsibility does not end there. A citizenry needs to stay informed about what is going on and we need to monitor what our elected officials are doing (or not doing). A lot of citizens do care, but not enough do. All citizens need to care more or there will be more of the same. So long as we have expectations from a government of, by and for the people, we must expect that we need to maintain a watchful eye over a government. After all, we are the boss!
Me – I did not know the MBTA had this specific looming problem. But I have rang the warning bells on other looming public policy issues, such as overcrowding with the MA DOC prison population and the need for outcome evaluations on all taxpayer funded programs and government initiatives.
There is reason to believe that our budget problems are not over. Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez reportedly said that the rising costs in health care and other areas has already strained the state budget and therefore, there is no more to help the MBTA. According to the Sun Chronicle, health care took up 22 percent of the budget in 1998 and now it takes up 41 percent. As a taxpayer, I want to know if rising health care costs are delivering better health care outcomes. Also, are all of the fixed costs paid for with taxpayer dollars efficiently spent? How do we know? If we don't know, why not?
I am not saying that a 43 percent hike in revenues or cuts in services is not necessary at this point. Maybe it has come to this—although I believe there is always a third option to be found. Going forward, we should not be afraid to sound the alarm when a report shows we have a problem on the horizon or sound the alarm when there are no reports on how well a government agency is doing our job. What I am saying is that there is no need for this happen again.
Paul Heroux is an Attleboro resident and has a Master's in Public Administration from the Harvard School of Government, is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has extensive experience in government accountability and performance measurement. He can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.