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MBTA Snow Job

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Higher gas taxes. New tolls. Charging drivers by the mile. Everyone has an idea of how to fix what ails the MBTA. The latest trial balloon would reallocate $20 million in unspent Massachusetts Department of Transportation snow removal funds  to the MBTA. Unfortunately, that remedy depends on the vagaries of Mother Nature. A late February, March, or April blizzard (they do happen) could plow right through what’s left in the snow removal kitty and then some.

Solving the MBTA budget problems should not hinge on whether or not a substantial snowfall is on the horizon. The question is simple: Can the Legislature come up with an alternative to fare hikes and service cuts before the spring when the MBTA board is obligated by statute to deliver a balanced 2013 budget?

The outlook is grim. Beacon Hill has few new ideas for one-time, much less permanent solutions. The $160 annual appropriation that the Legislature passed in 2009 to solve the MBTA funding problem didn’t do the trick, since the hole for fiscal 2013 is…$161 million.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo nixes a hike in the gas tax. Again. Senate President Therese Murray has already stated the obvious about the MBTA’s revenue needs. It doesn’t get any better further down the legislative food chain, of course. Sen. Thomas McGee, the Transportation Committee’s Senate chairman, urges people to show up at hearings to make their voices heard. But neither he nor House Chairman William Straus have been out in front on the issue.

Gov. Deval Patrick did submit a budget plan that calls for increases in assessments that cities and towns in the MBTA service area pay to subsidize T service. But having been burned once on a gas tax proposal, Patrick has declined to accept any leadership role in the crisis. Instead, with an eye to his future, he’s content to accept money from health care interests to travel the country to campaign for President Obama’s re-election rather than deal with whether or not the Green Line’s E branch runs on weekends.

The MBTA crisis is just the latest skirmish in the age-old battle between metro Boston and the rest of the state. Boston can moan about threats to the economy, seniors, and students, but until area lawmakers can work out a deal with their colleagues in Pittsfield, North Adams, Springfield, and Hyannis that gets the MBTA a permanent funding solution in exchange for an infusion of funds for roads, bridges, and regional transit systems elsewhere, nothing will change but the price of a Charlie ticket.

While state lawmakers hash out their conflicts, the Republicans in the US House are working to cut federal funding for mass transit. Instead of allocating nearly 3 cents of the federal 18 cent gas tax to mass transit systems, the Republicans have proposed a one-time $40 billion appropriation for mass transit systems, money that those systems would have to share with other transportation modes like bikes. It’s a short sighted move to that sets up yet another showdown with the Democrats in the Senate.  It also means that Beacon Hill is going to have to come up with an even more sophisticated long-term solution to the MBTA’s transportation financing dilemma since Washington appears determined to make things that much worse.

                                                                                                                                --GABRIELLE GURLEY



BEACON HILL


WBUR’s David Boeri says all that’s known for sure is that former House Speaker Sal DiMasi is on a bus trip. Former federal prosecutor Dan Small says there’s no reason to think DiMasi’s bus ride is just a transfer, NECN reports. Martin Weinberg, who represented one of DiMasi’s co-defendants at trial and is now handling the appeal of another, thinks DiMasi may be getting squeezed by prosecutors with leverage. David Bernstein speculates that DiMasi is arriving with revenge on the brain.

In something of a man-bites-dog moment, Globe columnist Scot Lehigh heaps praise on House Speaker Robert DeLeo for his reform-minded ways with municipal health care.
DeLeo dismisses a GOP-led bid to move bills through the house as election-year politics.

The family of a social worker killed a year ago in a group home for those with mental illness push for safety measures that might prevent such tragedies in the future.

The MetroWest Daily News supports efforts to open up the legislative process.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Two city of Lawrence workers are fired after surveillance video captures them bullying another worker and dumping furniture, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch says he plans to sell at auction the $10.5 million in liens the city has on properties, the Lowell Sun reports.

Residents of communities abutting cities or towns where a casino is proposed will have no say in the matter, and some of them aren’t too happy about it.

The Brockton Enterprise applauds Former Congressman Delahunt’s decision to provide pro bono help to a South Shore town in their application for a federal grant he helped create while in office.

Fall River will receive a so-called “Shannon” grant from the state to combat youth violence, the New Bedford Standard-Times reports.

A former member of the hacker collective Anonymous explains the recent hacking of a Boston police website.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

California’s same-sex marriage ban is struck down 2-1 by an appeals court, setting the stage for a Supreme Court challenge, Governing reports. Time questions whether the California case is too narrow to be taken up by the high court. The ruling has this guy smiling.

The Chelsea Housing Authority scandal goes national, as US Sen. Charles Grassley wants answers as to why three authority employees live practically rent-free in housing authority apartments.

In another man-bites-dog moment on the Globe op-ed page (see Lehigh entry in Beacon Hill section above), usually reliably right-winger Jeff Jacoby rushes to the defense of liberal US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

ELECTION 2012

Rick Santorum swept yesterday’s three GOP contests, though the Republican National Committee put out a statement to make sure reporters knew the nonbinding face-offs in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri mean nothing in the delegate count. To which Mitt Romney, for whom religious conservatives have yet to find religion, presumably shouted, “Amen.” Daily Beast writers analyze Santorum’s victories. Newt Gingrich pins his hopes on Ohio. But things are not looking good for the Georgian.

A former Reagan official says Romney’s businessman-for-president pitch won’t work because “political language is inherently moral, not managerial.”

The Atlantic rounds up the most bourgeois items for sale on the Obama campaign store, including yoga pants, cheese boards, and a scented soy candle.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report from Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies finds that more than 5 million US workers have given up on finding jobs and are therefore not counted in the tally of the nation’s unemployed.

EDUCATION

The state receiver for the Lawrence public schools tells the school committee it can play a minor part in the turnaround of the system, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Brockton Enterprise reports that school districts will spend about $11.3 million this year in transportation costs for homeless students.

The UMass system is increasing financial aid to students for the current year, the New Bedford Standard Times reports.


HEALTH CARE

A proposed ballot measure that would legalize the use of medical marijuana and set up centers around the state to distribute it is being funded predominantly by an Ohio billionaire, the Patriot Ledger reports. Via the AP.

TRANSPORTATION

The Wall Street Journal charts JetBlue’s path from Logan Airport pariah to top carrier.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Opponents of a wind developer’s plan to build turbines in Fairhaven detailed health and quality of life concerns at a forum on Tuesday.

Severe erosion at Provincetown’s Herring Cove Beach causes concerns.

MEDIA

The Nieman Journalism Lab explains what Charlie Sheen taught Salon about being original.

Two nonprofit news organizations in the San Francisco area agree to merge, the Bay Citizen reports.

Keller@Large isn’t crazy about the idea of a Southie-based reality show produced by the same people responsible for Jersey Shore.

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