Mass Transit Users Victimized by State’s Quest for Revenues in Midterm Budget
HARTFORD – Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), a member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, today called on the General Assembly to protect train and bus passengers by ensuring that the significantly higher fares they have been paying this year will be used for improving their service, and not for balancing the state budget.
The call to action was prompted by provisions in the administration’s midterm adjusted budget that reduce the state’s subsidy to the DOT by the amount of the recently scheduled 4% annual fare increases, neutralizing their potential to improve mass transit operations. The midterm adjustments for 2013 include a $2.3 million reduction in the state’s bus subsidy to the DOT and a $9.9 million reduction in its rail subsidy. The bus subsidy equals the estimated revenue impact of the bus fare increases, and the rail subsidy slightly exceeds the estimated impact of the rail fare increases.
“When mass transit users are forced to pay higher prices, the least they should expect in return is better, faster, or safer service,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Instead, the state is diverting their money for other purposes. It’s tantamount to charging them a tax for riding the trains and buses. It’s not fair, and it’s not honest.
“The state is on shaky financial ground, with neither revenues nor savings materializing as projected,” continued Rep. Lavielle. “Mass transit passengers should not have to bear the burden of spending that the state can’t afford. Rail commuters in particular are already hostage to a system replete with problems. Now they are becoming the victims of a desperate quest for revenues. The General Assembly must stop this subsidy reduction and let the DOT spend the monies from the fare increases on improving mass transit.”
Rep. Lavielle is joined by 26 other legislators from both parties in introducing HB 5067, “An Act Committing Bus and Rail Fare Increases to Bus and Rail Upgrades”. The bill requires that all revenues from the three years of 4% scheduled fare hikes (2012, 2013, and 2014) be used to pay for mass transit operations, maintenance, and improvements.
“I proposed the bill because the most recent fare increases were first introduced last summer as a way to balance the budget – “Plan B” – in case the deal proposed to state employees failed,” said Rep. Lavielle. “When the unions accepted the deal, Plan B was discarded, but the fare increases stayed on the table. Then suddenly, they were announced as necessary to keep mass transit running. The change in message didn’t ring true. Using the increases now to balance the budget isn’t fair to commuters and others, and passing the bill will prevent that from happening.
Rep. Lavielle was joined at today’s press conference by colleagues Representatives William Wadsworth (R-21), Jonathan Steinberg (D-136), Laura Hoydick (R-120), and many transportation advocates including Jim Cameron, Chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, Karen Barnaska of Transit for CT, Sue Prosi, Senior Regional Transportation Coordinator of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, Jill Kelly and Carol Leighton from the Connecticut Citizen’s Transportation Lobby, and Fredrick Riese from the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission.
“Connecticut’s rail system is a vital connection between residents and their place of work. FairfieldCountyresidents already pay 40% of the entire tax burden in the state. Increasing fares for the nation’s most used train line without providing a direct benefit to commuters will only push them to move to neighboring states with more reasonable fees and a higher quality mass transit experience,” said Jim Cameron (Chairman, Connecticut Rail Commuter Council).
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg added, “The State of Connecticut has a credibility gap when it comes to investing in existing mass transit infrastructure. We need to get serious about supporting the Metro North line before we have a serious problem.”
“The subsidy reductions are a prime example of saying one thing and doing another,” said Rep. Lavielle. “The people ofConnecticutdeserve better. I call on the General Assembly to be fair to mass transit users, to keep this money where it belongs, and to pass HB 5067. Let’s work together now to showConnecticutthat this General Assembly knows how to talk straight and behave responsibly toward the people it represents.”
In September, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that rail and bus fares would rise 4% on January 1 of the next three calendar years (2012, 2013, and 2014). For New Haven Line commuters, the new increases come in addition to already scheduled statutory increases of 1.25% on January 1, 2012, and 1% on January 1 of each year from 2013 to 2018, designed to help pay for new M-8 rail cars, and enacted with the passage of the 2012-2013 budget during the 2011 session. The 4% increases were not passed into law as part of the biennial budget.
No new increases beyond those already scheduled for the New Haven Line had been proposed this year until the state’s executive branch announced its “Plan B” budget, designed to address a $1.6 billion shortfall if the state employee unions had voted a second time to turn down the concessions package offered as part of the biennial budget. The “Plan B” proposal included an immediate 16.4% rail fare increase, followed by a 1% increase each year through 2018. Although the unions ultimately voted to approve the concessions package, the fare increases, unlike many other “Plan B” proposals, were not dropped from consideration. Instead, after a series of public hearings, they were reevaluated and were then announced by the DOT in September at slightly reduced levels.
Bill 5067 concerns only the three years of 4% annual increases announced by the DOT last September, and does not refer to the statutory rail fare increases approved by the General Assembly as part of the biennial budget.
The reductions to the state’s rail and bus subsidies appear on page B-89 of the FY 2013 Governor’s Midterm Budget Adjustments.