Jeff Jacoby

Cable TV service can be purchased in Boston for as little as 55 cents a day, a burden the city's top politician regards as so unjust that he is demanding the legal power to override it.

Mayor Thomas Menino spends a lot of time seething over cable fees. When Comcast, Boston's largest cable provider, announced last winter that the price of its basic package would rise to $15.80 a month, Menino excoriated the company's "offensive" rate as proof that "something is just plain wrong with the system." In May, he filed an "emergency petition" with the Federal Communications Commission, seeking "immediate" authority to regulate cable rates -- the better to shield subscribers "from Comcast's market power."

Last week the company upped the monthly cost of its lowest tier of service to $16.58, and the mayor insisted once again that he be empowered to set basic cable rates in Boston. Is this self-aggrandizement? Heaven forfend. Menino says his only wish is "to help protect consumers."

While the mayor was expostulating over the price of cable TV last week, the MBTA was holding the first of 22 (!) planned public hearings on the fare increases and service cuts it proposes to close a $161 million budget deficit. The MBTA's debt is $5.2 billion, the highest of any transit system in America, and it hasn't raised fares in five years. "While local and state taxes cover about two-thirds of the MBTA budget," the Globe noted on Wednesday, that income "has not kept pace with fuel, electricity, and health insurance costs," while the T's other attempts to economize -- "selling ads and surplus property, cutting staff, refinancing debt" -- have not been enough to balance the budget.

I have lived in Boston for more than 30 years, and in all that time the MBTA has been a mess. Government officials have never been able to work out the right balance between fares charged, expenses incurred, and services provided. In addition to its seemingly perpetual deficit, the T has been plagued with antiquated equipment, incoherent work rules, lousy communication, and outlandish employee costs.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for