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Patrick: Warm Winter Could Help Limit MBTA Cuts

Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday that his administration is considering using excess snow and ice removal funds to help the T.

The lack of snow this winter could help provide a short-term solution to the MBTA’s budget woes and limit the severe cuts in service proposed by the cash-strapped authority.

According to the State House News Service, Governor Deval Patrick’s administration is considering the use of excess snow and ice removal funds to help limit the , as the T attempts to deal with a projected budget gap of $161 million.

“It’s one we’re thinking about. It’s February. You know how New England is,” Patrick said. “We’ve had a good and calm and relatively snow-free winter so far. If the winter continues as it has been, there will be unspent snow and ice budget. That may be part of the one-year fix.” 

With the talk of a short-term fix, Patrick also acknowledged the need for a more long-term solution.

“We are working on both what the permanent fix ought to be … and also what a short-term measure ought to be so we can avoid some of the service cuts that are on the table right now,” he said.

Patrick joins a growing list of state officials who appear to be actively looking at ways to keep the burden of the MBTA’s budget woes from the shoulders of riders, following the T has been holding throughout the area.

Reading’s elected officials at the state level have all recently expressed concern at the MBTA’s proposals, and stated the need for alternative solutions to the yawning budget deficit. (D-Melrose), and Representatives (D-Woburn) and (R-North Reading) have all spoken out about the MBTA’s proposals in recent weeks.

Reading Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner also spoke about the plans during a recent Board of Selectmen meeting, as did Selectman Ben Tafoya, as both toyed with the notion of organizing an informal meeting, as was done in some area towns such as Woburn and Stoneham.

“Just drive down to the depot, and you’ll see how people rely on the T in this town,” Hechenbleikner said.

The state budget for fiscal year 2012 earmarked $50 million for snow and ice removal. As of Jan. 4, just $10.5 million had been spent to clear the roads, during what has been an uncharacteristically dry and mild winter. The figure spent so far this winter represents less than one-third of the average annual spending through that date.

As for a long-term solution, Patrick stressed the importance of finding one while acknowledging the difficulty in doing so during a slow economic period.

“It’s not like I don’t have any experience with this,” said Patrick. “I proposed the gas tax a few years ago … It’s not easy to do. It’s a crummy time. People aren’t ever interested in spending more money, especially for the same old thing. We weren’t crying wolf then, and we’re not crying wolf now.”

Patrick said the gas tax may no longer be a viable solution to the state’s long-term transportation woes.

“But I do know how we think about what we want government to do and what are the reasonable ways to ask people to contribute to that is critical,” he said. “And over the course of the next 12 months or so we’re going to have to deal with this, not just in the context of transportation.”

The MBTA is due to ratify a budget by April 15, and officials have indicated a budget would be in place as early as April 6. 

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey has indicated that he’s largely heard riders would , although transit advocates have said that is not the case.

The MBTA unveiled its two proposals in early January, and to say they have caused a stir would be an understatement. Thousands of riders have attended the 20 public hearings held by the T so far, and many have—often angrily—expressed their displeasure with the authority’s response to its budget crisis.

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