For years, a pernicious notion has floated around certain corners of Beacon Hill that the MBTA is a black hole that tries to suck in any and all taxpayer dollars. Now the idea is threatening to rear its head again.

In a broadside fired off last week in reaction to Gov. Maura Healey’s budget proposal, the right-wing Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said the T “has an endless appetite for mugging the taxpayers” and offered as Exhibit A Healey’s proposal to send $127 million in Millionaire’s Tax money to support the T’s day-to-day operations.

This fundamentally misrepresents history and the reality of today’s MBTA.

Healey’s budget proposal is trying to respond to a growing gulf between expenses and revenue at the T as it tries to build itself back into an agency that has enough staff to run safely, whose equipment and infrastructure is in good working order and that offers the kind of frequent, reliable service that can attract customers.

While the governor’s plan is $93 million short of what the T actually needs next fiscal year and won’t address a much bigger budget gap that starts the following year, it’s still an acknowledgement that the T’s revenue stream is fundamentally broken.

In theory, the T should be able to run its buses and trains – a separate pot of money from construction projects – off its share of the state sales tax, fares, assessments on the communities it serves and a mixed bag of small revenue sources like advertising. But the linchpin of that arrangement, the sales tax share put in place in 2000, has underperformed by as much as $15.5 billion.

Add to that mess debt service on the construction projects the T was forced to prioritize as part of the Big Dig – unlike most other peer agencies, the T must pay bonds for capital projects out of its operating budget – and it’s no wonder the transit system got so bad. There’s just not been the money available to fix faults as they appeared.

Business leaders should look at that $93 million gap in next year’s budget with concern. The Healey administration and the legislature need to find a way to close it without laying off current workers, pausing plans to finish staffing up the agency or keep fixing broken parts of the T.

We challenge anyone skeptical the T to ride the Green Line’s D branch from Newton to Union Square in Somerville come Monday if they want to see how well their money is being spent. Compare its speed and efficiency following a month of major repairs to how it ran this time last year. See how bright and welcoming the previously beat-up stations will look. Know that the rest of the subway system is getting this treatment over the course of 2024.

And consider that the current crop of T leaders were able to do this – things that had firmly eluded several previous generations of leadership – with not even a year on the job to turn the agency around.

This isn’t your dad’s MBTA anymore. It’s time we stopped treating it as such and acknowledge that it’s on the way to resuming its role as the keystone of mobility in Greater Boston – the keystone to the entire state’s economy.

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Setting the Record Straight on T Funding

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min