House Democrats unveil funding plans for the T, including creation of ‘MBTA Academy’

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House Democrats want to inject hundreds of millions of new dollars into the MBTA, calling for a sharp increase in operating budget support and funding for new initiatives such as a hiring and training program.

The fiscal 2025 budget proposal set to be rolled out Wednesday will include $555 million for the T, plus another $184 million for regional transit authorities, according to House Speaker Ron Mariano’s office. That money would come on top of other longstanding funding sources already set to steer more than $1.6 billion toward the agency.

Altogether, the spending plan would represent a major jump in state dollars flowing toward public transit in Massachusetts — Mariano’s office called it “the largest investment in the MBTA by the House of Representatives in an annual budget” — at a time when MBTA officials are sounding the alarm about funding gaps and Beacon Hill budget-writers must navigate strain of their own.

Mariano said the bill as drafted “provides the MBTA with the support that they desperately need.”

“Ensuring that the Commonwealth is equipped with a safe and reliable public transportation system is critical for the prosperity of our residents and communities, and will be vital in our future efforts to grow the economy,” Mariano said in a statement. “That’s why the House is proposing a record investment in the MBTA, an investment that will allow the new leadership at the T to meet the immense challenges that they face head on.”

The House Ways and Means Committee proposal would authorize a $314 million operating transfer to the T in fiscal 2025, up from $187 million in the fiscal 2024 spending plan Gov. Maura Healey signed last summer and more than twice as much as the traditional $127 million level.

In addition, House Democrats back an additional $75 million to cover capital investments in infrastructure at the T, which could begin to chip away at a massive backlog of repair and maintenance needs at the agency, and $65 million more to help the MBTA address safety failures identified in a 2022 federal investigation.

The House’s budget bill will look to fund a pair of brand-new programs. Mariano’s office said the proposal includes $40 million to create an “MBTA Academy,” which would fund recruitment, training and creation of a workforce pipeline, and $35 million for a “Resilient Rides” program aimed at better preparing stations, rails and other infrastructure to adapt to climate change impacts.

It’s not clear how the proposed MBTA investments will affect appropriations throughout the rest of the House budget, which will be fully unveiled on Wednesday.

Mariano, whose Quincy-based district is heavily reliant on the T, said he’s “particularly proud” of the workforce funding the House will pursue given “recruitment and training challenges that have plagued the MBTA.”

Investigators with the Federal Transit Administration slammed the T in 2022 for an overworked, shorthanded workforce, which they said contributed to some of the agency’s most glaring safety issues.

The agency has gone on a hiring blitz, adding more than 1,000 positions since then, though some analysts warn that obstacles still loom on the horizon.

For years, the T has struggled to balance its operating budget, and the challenges have grown even more pronounced in recent years as the pandemic punched a hole in ridership and the fare revenue it brings.

MBTA financial experts project the agency will need to trim a bit of spending in fiscal 2025 to balance the books, then face a gap of about $650 million in fiscal 2026 that will increase in subsequent years.

House Democrats targeted an overall larger share of MBTA funding in their budget than Healey, who in her $58.1 billion plan proposed a $254 million operating transfer plus $60 million for pay-as-you-go capital investments without including the House-backed safety spending, the workforce academy money or climate adaptation measures.

“Having a well-run transit system is critical to the success of the Commonwealth,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Aaron Michlewitz, who lives in the T’s core city of Boston. “This record amount of funding shows the House’s commitment to improving our transportation infrastructure in every area of the Commonwealth.”

On one item, though, Mariano and Michlewitz want to go lower: reduced fares for low-income riders.

Their budget, which can be amended during House floor deliberations later this month, would earmark $20 million to cover the costs of the program set to launch this summer, less than half of the $45 million Healey proposed.

MBTA officials have estimated the low-income fare option could cost about $25 million in fiscal 2025, then rise to between $52 million and $62 million per year once fully implemented. A late decision to expand eligibility to RIDE paratransit premium service will add another $4 million per year.

When the agency’s board of directors approved the program last month, T officials said they planned to move forward regardless of how the Legislature — which alongside Healey approved $5 million in this year’s budget as a foundation for the new fares — approached funding.

“Should they not, the T will find a way to continue to balance all of our needs. We know how important this is,” MBTA General Manager Phil Eng said in March. “But I’m really optimistic that the $5 million there was intended to be followed up with other funding sources.”

A House Ways and Means Committee official said the budget redraft would use $187 million in General Fund money on the T and another $367 million from revenues generated by the new surtax on high earners.

The House bill will also match Healey’s proposal to direct $250 million of surtax revenues toward the Commonwealth Transportation Fund to boost its borrowing capacity, according to the Ways and Means official.

Mariano’s office made no mention of other transportation funding ideas that Healey included in her budget bill, such as a $100 million supplement for the Chapter 90 local road and bridge maintenance program.

Funding through the annual state budget represents only one part of the T’s financial structure. The agency also receives a dedicated portion of state sales tax revenues, projected to be nearly $1.47 billion in fiscal 2025, as well as more than $180 million per year from cities and towns within the MBTA service area.

Beacon Hill has steered more money to the T to assist with safety improvements ordered by federal overseers, but Democrats have not shown much interest in recent years in rethinking how Massachusetts funds its largest transit agency, even as MBTA leaders point to problems with the existing model and business leaders stress the system’s importance.

Healey created a commission to examine big-picture transportation funding questions, and its report due at the end of the year could serve as a precursor to a revived debate.

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