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Fare warning

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Knowing this day was coming did little to soften the blow: The MBTA unveiled its proposal to close a $161 million hole in its budget with a double-whammy of big fare hikes and cuts in service that include shutting down commuter rail service on weekends and elimination of ferry service.  The cost of a subway ride using a CharlieCard, depending on which of two options is adopted, would jump from $1.70 to $2.25 or $2.40. The cost of CharlieTicket would go from $2 to $3.

WBUR’s coverage includes an interview with Transportation Secretary Richard Davey. In its story, the Lowell Sun focuses on the potential for reduced commuter rail and the end of ferry service, with Lowell’s city manager, Bernie Lynch, saying the cuts fly in the face of sustainable communities and smart growth. The Lynn Item reports Lynn will suffer.

The T last raised fares in 2007. It initiated another round of hikes in 2009 that were never adopted, with the Legislature instead raising the sales tax and earmarking part of the revenue for transportation. The T says it can expect a ridership drop of between 9 and 17 percent as a result of a fare increase, depending on the scenario.  This comes on the heels of news that increasing ridership made 2011 the busiest for the T since record-breaking 2008.

This round of fare increases may also come with a look at gas tax, which has not been raised since 1990. Lt. Governor Tim Murray last year indicated that possibility, and there have been calls for this move in CommonWealth and elsewhere. The gas tax, however, remains a politically sensitive topic. An attempt to raise it was defeated in 2009, and mere suggestion of an increase by Murray was enough to draw a strong rebuke from US Sen. Scott Brown, in the form of a public letter to Gov. Deval Patrick in August of last year.

The MBTA is not alone in its budget problems. Transit systems across the country are doing more with less even as they see increases in ridership. And even with the rumblings of a gas tax hike push, nothing can be predicted for certain, except perhaps that the drastic fare increases and service cuts are headed our way as soon as July.

                                                                                                                                                       --CHRISTINA PRIGNANO 

BEACON HILL

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray was going 108 miles per hour prior to his November car crash, CommonWealth reports. The Globe account is here. On Greater Boston, political reporter Adam Reilly and Herald reporter David Wedge discuss the criminal and political implications for Murray in the wake of the black box data release from his crash and cast doubt that the story’s over. The Worcester Telegram has an in-depth report and the Lowell Sun has a story. Two takes from the Herald: Howie Carr ridicules the State Police who didn’t want to release the black box data, but Peter Gelzinis says the Staties have bigger problems -- like the trooper who was just busted for allegedly threatening to kill his bookie.

The Masssachusetts Lottery loses at least $300,000 on its New Year’s raffle game but vows to pursue similar games in the future, CommonWealth reports.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Scituate became the latest town to adopt the municipal health insurance reform law that allows communities more power in plan design over unions.

The zoning panel chairman in Salem was arrested for selling Oxycodone, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Patrick Murphy, 29, is sworn in as Lowell’s youngest mayor, the Lowell Sun reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Montana tests the limits of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United campaign finance ruling.

ELECTION 2012

It’s Mitt....by 8 votes in Iowa, as the GOP’s latest alternative flavor of the week, Rick Santorum, working on a shoestring budget, manages a virtual tie with the well-funded former Bay State governor. Santorum spent $1.65 per vote, to Rick Perry’s $817, notes Slate’s David Weigel. Weigel also says Santorum’s strong showing indicates that Sarah Palin’s so-called “Teavangelical” movement is actually kind of a real thing.

The National Review stable of pundits weighs in on what the Iowa caucus results mean and the conclusion is everything, not so much, and wait and see. The Weekly Standard says Mitt Romney’s in big trouble. The New York Times says the Iowa returns reinforce the GOP’s fierce ideological divide. Times statistical guru Nate Silver’s analysis is here. The MetroWest Daily News examines the impact SuperPACs have had on the caucus, and the Christian Science Monitor looks at Santorum’s road ahead.

With friends like this. . . Former Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich, Romney’s chairman in that state, doesn’t think Romney can win Maryland.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Gov. Deval Patrick’s aides say he is noncommittal on the state’s film tax credit, but one source tells CommonWealth it is unlikely the governor will drop his support for the incentive.

A New Jersey state senator files legislation that would allow his state’s residents to gamble online within six months, the Press of Atlantic City reports.

EDUCATION

Western Governors University’s online school is helping adults finish college, NPR reports.

HEALTH CARE

Quincy-based Fallon Ambulance Service cut 25 jobs because of reduced Medicare reimbursement rates and says it may have to look to private insurance carriers for higher contract rates to make up the expected shortfalls.

TRANSPORTATION

A California state panel questions whether the state should break ground on its high-speed rail line without assurances of future federal funding.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A New Bedford Superior Court judge took under advisement a suit against a proposed pair of wind turbines in Fairhaven but questioned the legal standing of the residents who brought the action.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Massachusetts state trooper is arrested and charged with running a gambling ring and serving as its violent enforcer, NECN reports. The trooper’s attorney says the “situation is not as it appears at first blush.”

The Hampden County district attorney announced that there is an “indisputable” link between a Springfield man who died in 2003 and the 1993 disappearance of 10-year-old Holly Piirainen, whose remains were found several months later in a wooded area of Brimfield.

Thieves cut off the catalytic converters from 89 cars, which can be sold as scrap metal for $200 while car owners pay $1,000 to replace them, in MBTA commuter rail parking lots last year, mainly on the South Shore. The year before, the T reported 18 such incidents.

The family of Tarek Mehanna, the Sudbury man convicted of terrorism last month, tells Emily Rooney why they think his trial was a miscarriage of justice.

The Dartmouth police chief lambasted a Rhode Island hospital for refusing to notify his department when a domestic violence suspect was released from the hospital.

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