As T board nears its end, consensus proving elusive
After nearly six years, the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board is coming to an end.
Two meetings are scheduled for June, and then the board will shut down. Some sort of replacement board is likely to emerge over the next month on Beacon Hill, possibly with some of the current members, but there are no guarantees.
The control board came into existence in July 2015, following a winter that knocked the transit authority on its back. The board has followed its own path – not as passive as the much larger MassDOT board but not domineering, either. The panel in many respects plays the role of a sounding board. The five members, all selected by Gov. Charlie Baker, have succeeded in drawing attention to the MBTA’s many challenges and allowed the public and advocacy groups to voice their concerns.
Two big issues have emerged. The first has to do with the level of oversight. The control board initially met every week and that felt right as there was so much to do. But a safety review committee appointed in the wake of a Red Line derailment at the JFK/UMass Station pointed out in December 2019 that the control board’s meeting schedule was getting out of hand; the staff was spending too much time getting ready for meetings and not enough time doing their jobs. So the board scaled back to two meetings a month, although the gatherings can still last a long time. (Monday’s meeting ran more than four hours.)
On fares, for example, the T for years has hewed to the philosophy put forward by former transportation secretary Stephanie Pollack and enshrined in a 2017 state law that the price of a ride should go up by a moderate amount at regular intervals. The law limits fare increases to no more than 7 percent every two years. The last increase was in 2019; the law would allow another increase this summer, but the board shows no inclination to do that.
Indeed, some board members want to move in the opposite direction. Amid calls from advocates and some Beacon Hill lawmakers for doing away with bus fares entirely, the control board is putting pressure on T staff to come up with a way to implement means-tested fares – fares based on the income level of the rider.
Gov. Charlie Baker in January vetoed a proposal for means-tested fares because there was no “financially sustainable plan in place to replace the lost revenue.” But at a meeting on Monday two members of the board expressed frustration at the lack of action on means-tested fares on Beacon Hill. They suggested the T should use its own funds to launch a means-tested-fare pilot next year and use the success of the pilot to leverage funding from the Legislature for a permanent program. There was strong pushback on that idea from another member of the board.
A similar impasse has emerged on fare evasion. The T wants fines for fare evasion to be high enough to serve as a deterrent, but board members seem reluctant to assess fines higher than $10 for initial offenses.
Joe Aiello, the chair of the control board and its leading proponent of consensus, put off action on both means-tested fares and fines for fare evasion until next month. He has two meetings left to find some common ground. Time is running short.
Remarkable turnaround: Six years ago the Green Line extension project was spiraling out of control. Cost estimates for the project rose from $2 billion to $3 billion, raising questions about whether the project would ever get built. Now the project known as GLX is nearing completion and the picture looks very different.
- The $2.3 billion project running from Lechmere into Somerville and Medford is expected to wrap up later this year and currently is sitting on roughly $300 million in funding for contingencies.
- The financial situation is apparently so rosy that the chair of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board is talking about using some of the potential leftover money to help finance the construction of a rail connection between the Red and Blue subway lines.
- Somerville and Cambridge, which chipped in $75 million in funding for the project during its darkest hour, could get their money back if the project encounters no major hiccups.
- Read more.
White’s days numbered: Suffolk Superior Court Judge Heidi Brieger denied a motion by Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White seeking to block his dismissal by Acting Mayor Kim Janey. Legal infighting could drag on, but the fight now moves into the political realm. Janey is likely to move forward with plans to remove White because of allegations of domestic abuse from two decades ago, but it’s unclear whether she can name a replacement in her “acting” capacity. Former mayor and now US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh doesn’t look good for appointing White in a rush as he prepared to head to DC. Some former aides say Walsh knew of the abuse allegations, although he denies that. Read more.
Conscientious MCAS objectors: Teachers in Hull and Cambridge say they will refuse to administer the MCAS test this year, running the risk of disciplinary action. The teachers say they can’t administer a test that will increase anxiety among students who are already dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The individual and fairly isolated actions in Hull and Cambridge are taking place amid a much broader political and philosophical debate about testing.
- Teacher unions traditionally have opposed MCAS as bad policy that forces teachers to teach to the test, but backers of testing say it is needed to measure how well the educational system is functioning.
- This year, with the pandemic and schools shuttered much of the year, education has taken a hit. A poll of parents indicated 55 percent believe their children have lost ground this year and will need to catch up academically next year. Read more on the poll.
- The testing debate increasingly has taken on racial overtones, as critics of MCAS say test scores hinge less on teaching and learning and more on a student’s race, what language is spoken at home, and family income levels. Dan Monahan, president of the Cambridge Education Association, says the test is “rooted in racism.” Backers of education reform argue that testing is the way we combat racial inequities by holding the system accountable for how children are doing.
Bump stepping down: State Auditor Suzanne Bump said she will not be seeking a fourth term, creating a rare vacancy for a statewide office that is likely to attract a lot of candidates. Read more.
Making emergency rules permanent: Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation to make some of the measures approved during the state of emergency last after the emergency ends on June 15, His proposal calls for continuation of public meetings held remotely and special permits for outdoor dining. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Gov. Charlie Baker signs a $400 million bond bill to rebuild the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home but vetoes a provision requiring union labor. (Associated Press) Globe columnist Scot Lehigh applauds his move, and says the Legislature should let it stand.
House Speaker Ron Mariano rejected the idea that the Legislature should ask Gov. Charlie Baker to answer more questions before lawmakers about his responsibility for the COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. (Boston Globe) Some Western Massachusetts lawmakers question provisions in a legislative oversight committee’s report on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home that recommend removing some local control from the home and changing its governance structure. (MassLive)
Mariano apologizes after joking that he worries his car will get stolen while attending a South End event to endorse Boston mayoral candidate Jon Santiago. (State House News Service)
Attorney General Maura Healey responds to questions about her office’s handling of referrals of campaign finance violations, Mikayla Miller, and a recent Boston Globe Spotlight Team report on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. (GBH)
Dianne Wilkerson, the former state senator who went to jail for accepting bribes, now appears to be fully rehabilitated. (GBH)
An audit by state auditor Suzanne Bump finds a Berkshire County organization that helps people with disabilities misspent $777,000 in state money. (MassLive)
Lawrence General Hospital is laying off 56 people, or about 2.5 percent of its workforce, amid losses it attributes to the pandemic. (Boston Globe)
George Floyd’s family — and the country — mark the first anniversary of his death. (Washington Post)
The Manhattan district attorney has convened a grand jury that will consider whether to bring charges against former president Donald Trump, others at his company, or the company itself, according to the Washington Post.
Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff announces that she will run for auditor in 2022, vying to replace Suzanne Bump who said Tuesday that she will not run for reelection. (Gloucester Daily Times)
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio seeks to extend the state’s “drinks-to-go” policy, which let restaurants sell alcohol with takeout meals during the pandemic. (Gloucester Daily Times)
Amazon, which holds its annual shareholders’ meeting today, is getting lots of pushback from advocates and activist groups, especially in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)
Other marijuana stores are closely watching a case in which a Haverhill marijuana shop sued the town over the community impact fees it was required to pay. (Eagle-Tribune)
New York private equity firm Blackstone Group says it’s the biggest commercial property owner in the Boston area. (Boston Globe)
Hampshire Regional High School reports that 58 percent of kids were chronically absent this year, but school officials say a major reason was a temporary shift in the tardiness policy during remote learning, which had kids being marked absent if they came five minutes late to remote class. (MassLive)
The Biden administration said it plans to open the California coast to offshore wind development using floating turbines. (NPR)CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS
Incidents of child abuse spiked during the pandemic. (Salem News)