One never knows what the black box that is the Beacon Hill legislative process will generate, but here’s one idea state Sen. Michael Rodrigues and his opposite number state Rep. Aaron Michelwitz should jump on: Take the Big Dig debt off the T’s books. 

The two top budget-writers in the state legislature and their colleagues are still – regrettably – mulling over a state budget due nearly a month ago, apparently deadlocked over competing tax relief proposals. 

For readers confused why the T is still carrying debt from a highway project completed 20 years ago, it all goes back to a political deal struck in 2000. The cost of transit improvements – upgrading the Blue Line, building the Silver Line, the Green Line Extension and extending the commuter rail system to Worcester, Middleborough, Plymouth, and Newburyport – legally mandated to reduce the Big Dig’s environmental impact were dumped on the T.  

The direct costs, before interest is factored in, amounted to around $3.8 billion, according to a May Commonwealth Magazine interview with MBTA board chair Tom Glynn. In that same interview, Glynn said the T still has around $1 billion to pay off and it’s costing the T around $200 million a year. For reference, the T’s latest budget accounts for $517 million in total debt service payments. 

The deficit in the T’s operating budget – the side of the house that pays to run trains, buses, small repairs and day-to-day work – is projected to hit up to $475 million by 2025 in a ridership crisis ouroboros. Work-from-home trends sap needed funds from the agency, which makes it harder to pay for repairs, hiring and service improvements that would make working from home less appealing.  

It was never fair to make the T pay for projects that, at their core, were byproducts of highway construction, but it’s also bad policy. By their actions in continually upping subsidies for the states’ roads in ways like this – another example: the gas tax has barely budged in the last generation, while T fares have jumped 37 percent – the state legislature and successive governors have told Massachusetts residents to drive more when we know that only leads to more pollution, more traffic and more climate change. 

And now, with a budget crisis bearing down on the agency that’s literally necessary to keep the state economy going, it’s looking highly problematic as well. 

We all know Beacon Hill needs to come up with a new, stable and durable source of revenue for the T. But since negotiations over the likely solutions, like expanded highway tolls, haven’t yet appeared on the horizon, realistically this search for new revenue will take time. 

In the interim, taking the remaining Big Dig debt off the T’s books – perhaps paid for by closing the married-filing-separately loophole in the Millionaire’s Tax – is a necessary step. 

Letters to the editor of 350 words or less may be submitted via email at with the subject line “Letter to the Editor,” or mailed to the offices of The Warren Group. Submission is not a guarantee of publication.  

Free the T of Big Dig Debt

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min