Baker unveils MBTA reform legislation
Governor says control board will bring needed "focus, urgency, and intensity" to problems
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack unveiled legislation Wednesday to create a fiscal and management control board to take charge of the crisis-ridden MBTA. The move comes one day after Baker accepted the resignations of six of the seven members of the current MassDOT board which oversees the MBTA.
Pollack said that the control board would differ from the current MassDOT board in several respects: The group would be responsible exclusively for the MBTA; meet more often than the MassDOT board, which has monthly sessions; and have greater responsibility over contracting and procurement decisions.
“The truth is, for now, the T needs the extra attention,” Pollack said.
Three of the control board members would be appointed by Baker. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg would each recommend one member. The appointees would be volunteers and would not be compensated or receive stipends. The group would serve until June 2018; the secretary of transportation could extend the terms of the board, if deemed necessary. A chief administrator, appointed by Baker, would manage day-to-day operations of the MBTA, replacing the current interim MBTA chief Frank DePaola.
Baker said he expects a control board to bring “focus, urgency, and intensity” to the task of restoring credibility to the MBTA. He said the group would work on one- and five-year operating budgets beginning with the fiscal 2017 spending plan; establish strict divisions between the operating and capital budgets; create new management and performance standards; tackle employee problems such as high absenteeism; review all current MBTA contracts including the Keolis commuter rail and The Ride paratransit agreements; and uncap fare increases.
Baker’s proposal also calls for annual audits of the MBTA retirement fund and making the fund subject to the state’s public records law.
Although there is widespread agreement that the problems at the MBTA require drastic action, the plan may not see smooth sailing through the Legislature. Both the transportation committee co-chairs, Rep. William Straus and Sen. Tom McGee, have voiced reservations about the plan.
Several of the Baker proposals, such as exempting the MBTA from the Pacheco Law, which establishes certain requirements that state agencies must meet before they can contract out state functions to private companies, have already sparked opposition in the Senate. The House proposed a 2016 budget that would give the agency a five-year hiatus from the law.
The Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents T workers, voiced strong opposition to any Pacheco rollback. “While we agree with many of the recommendations of their report, eliminating the Pacheco Law will only make a bad situation worse for riders and taxpayers,” the union said in a statement. “MBTA management currently has all the tools it needs to hire private firms to perform MBTA work now.” The union noted that commuter rail and The Ride are both managed by private companies. “The commuter rail system is already privately run and it is well documented that the private operator needed a full month more to restore full service as compared to bus and transit routes staffed by the Carmen’s Union,” the union added.
The governor called the House budget decision to temporarily exempt the agency from the Pacheco Law “a good first step.”
“There’s a lot of good in this that shouldn’t be too controversial,” said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board. “The control board is worth having.” He added, however, that when it comes to issues like the Pacheco Law and opening up the MBTA retirement fund to outside scrutiny, Baker is in for a “tough fight.”
Baker proposed enlarging the membership of the MassDOT board to 11 members, including adding two representatives from “core” and “outer” MBTA communities and a representative from an area served by a regional transit authority. The secretary of transportation would chair the new board.
The administration hopes that the Legislature will take action on the proposal by the summer. If a control board gets approval, Pollack said that there are no immediate plans to hike fares.Baker also intends to appoint six new members to the MassDOT board under the current governance model to oversee the highway, registry of motor vehicles, aeronautics divisions in the next couple of weeks.