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T budget transfer far from done deal

More cuts could happen if Legislature doesn’t move funds.

Riders could face more fare increases and service cuts if the Legislature doesn't pass a portion of the governor's transportation minireform bill to help bail out the MBTA -- a measure discussed yesterday during a hearing with the Joint Transportation Committee at the State House.

State Rep. William Straus, the committee's co-chairman, expressed concern about transferring $51 million from the state motor vehicle inspection trust to close the T's fiscal 2013 budget.

Straus said some of the surplus should be diverted to Regional Transit Agencies in communities that aren't serviced by the MBTA.

"People all around the state are contributing [to that fund] when they get their cars inspected," said Straus.

According to the State House News Service, Straus said there's no question that "what the Legislature ultimately does on this question affects the viability of [the MBTA's] overall plan."

But MassDOT Secretary Rich Davey stressed if the money isn't put towards the T's budget, the MassDOT Board of Directors would be forced to consider more fare hikes and service cuts in addition to the 23 percent spike they approved last week.

"It's a position we prefer not to be in," said Davey.

Brian Kane, policy analyst for the MBTA Advisory Board, said the Legislature's decision is "anyone's guess."

If the money isn't shifted, however, Kane believes the T may consider slashing more services.

"I do think they will pull the list of cuts out of their back pockets unless this is approved," he said.

The legislation, filed by Gov. Deval Patrick late last month, also contains measures to curb fare evasion and post ads on the RMV website.

Members of the transportation committee said they would take on the bill "piece-meal," focusing first on the MBTA's immediate budgetary concerns.

The committee is expected to vote on the fund transfer in the next few weeks.

Follow Steve Annear on Twitter @steveannear