T control board’s annual report calls for new revenues

The MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board sent a 10-page annual report to the Legislature on Monday that is fact-based and largely straightforward with its updates on major initiatives and its appeals for more revenue, continued transparency, and means-tested fares.

Brian Lang, a member of the control board, said he liked the report, the sixth issued since the board was created in 2015. “It’s taken us six tries to get one concise enough that people will actually read it,” he said.

There aren’t a lot of editorial comments in the report, but it nevertheless takes issue with a number of stances taken by Gov. Charlie Baker, who appointed all of the control board’s members.

The report bluntly states that the current funding structure of the MBTA needs to be adjusted to deal with soaring pension and debt service costs.

The T’s contribution to employee pensions was $71 million in fiscal 2017, a number that rose to $128 million during the current fiscal year and is projected to hit $175 million in fiscal 2025. “This is unsustainable and requires a fix through renegotiation of the pension agreement, legislation, or both,” the report states.

The control board also confirmed what many budget analysts are saying — that the MBTA’s capital spending program is threatened by rising debt service costs, which are paid out of the T’s operating budget. In other words, the interest the T is paying on the money it has borrowed is eating up a larger and larger share of the transit authority’s operating budget, forcing the agency to choose between sought-after capital projects for the future or keeping trains running now.

Interest costs currently represent 23 percent of the T’s operating budget, a percentage the board says is likely to rise as federal and state funding sources dry up.

“We recommend that new state, federal, and other sources of dedicated revenue be found for capital improvements which will mitigate the MBTA’s debt service burden. This will allow the MBTA to continue and accelerate our aggressive capital program which is key to modernizing the MBTA, supports the Commonwealth reaching our climate goals, and allows the MBTA to offer increasingly better service at affordable fares,” the report said.

The segment of the report dealing with means-tested fares was interesting as much for what it didn’t say as what it said. The report said the control board was pleased the Legislature acknowledged in its transportation bond bill the need for means-tested fares (fares tied to the income level of riders) and a funding source to pay for them.

The report did not mention that Baker vetoed the means-tested fare provision in the transportation bond bill and that he also vetoed a potential funding source – new fees on Uber and Lyft rides capable of raising upwards of $55 million. The control board’s annual report pegged the cost for means-tested fares at $40 to $55 million, plus additional money for operating costs.

The control board, which is set to expire in June, also recommended that state lawmakers pass legislation establishing a new standalone MBTA oversight board by May 15 with the secretary of transportation as a member. The annual report said the governor should continue to select all the board members and the board, not the secretary of transportation, should select the general manager of the T.

The report also recommended setting the number of required meetings at 18 per year rather than the current 36. Last year, the board recommended holding a minimum of 15 meetings each year.

“We also believe that full transparency with the public is the best long-term safeguard against a relapse of pre-2015 conditions. Transparency has associated costs, but in the long term it is undoubtedly less expensive,” the report said.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Two years after criminal justice reform passed the Legislature, there’s still no progress on gathering data across the criminal justice system on recidivism and racial disparities.

A top official at Harvard University raises concerns about how Baker administration officials are considering a “no build’ option for the Allston I-90 interchange project, which would patch a crumbling elevated section of highway and leave everything else as is.

Gov. Charlie Baker defends his administration’s vaccine rollout while boosting the number of inoculation sites and giving those between 65 and 74 a higher priority. The 65-plus decision had the effect of lowering the priority of teachers and others who are eager for their shots.

Facing a lot of pushback, the state’s marijuana trade association drops a lawsuit challenging new home delivery regulations that were seen as threatening to existing stores but good for minority entrepreneurs.

T notes: A series of presentations on some of the MBTA’s transformation projects suggests high cost and a need for more management oversight….Baker administration sees little role for transit in climate change fight….Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack says it’s not odd that a long-time transit advocate is heading for the No. 2 job at the Federal Highway Administration.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker had a lot of leverage over a spate of bills passed last session, in part because lawmakers who had extended their two-year session by five months still waited until the 11th hour to act. (Boston Globe)

A bill inspired by the case of Michelle Carter, who used text messages to goad her boyfriend into killing himself, would make it an explicit crime punishable by jail time to coerce a person to commit suicide. (Salem News)

In yet another sign of the deep fissure among state Republicans, some Massachusetts Republican Party activists want Gov. Charlie Baker censured for his comments supporting a second impeachment of former president Donald Trump. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Just how far will Kim Janey’s powers extend as acting mayor when the Boston City Council president takes over from departing Mayor Marty Walsh? It’s not clear. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

There is a slow decline in the number of patients at the DCU Center field hospital in Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

Herald columnist Joe Battenfeld says Gov. Charlie Baker’s handling of COVID issues, including the vaccine rollout, has shown him to be an “out of touch bureaucrat.”

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Republican senators seem increasingly wary of voting to convict former president Donald Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial. (New York Times)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to a power-sharing structure that will give Democrats more control over the evenly-divided Senate. Democrats have the edge because Vice President Harris is able to break any tie votes in the chamber. (Washington Post)

President Biden is moving to reverse several Trump policies and boost protections for LGBT Americans. (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts is sending another 700 members of the National Guard to Washington, DC, to provide assistance to the Secret Service with Trump impeachment proceedings pending. (CBS4)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Amazon plans to bring 3,000 new employees over the coming few years as part of a major expansion in the Seaport. (Boston Globe)

The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston has dropped 18 percent since a year ago. (Boston Herald)

An analyst with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission says the regional economy is unlikely to recover fully any time soon. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The state’s three casinos will return to 24-hour operations this week. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Massachusetts creates new sites scattered around the state where early educators can be tested for COVID-19. (State House News Service)

Some Fall River area school districts say they’re currently not interested in the state pooled testing program, with Swansea’s superintendent saying it doesn’t seem like a “prudent avenue to explore.” (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

Commercial flights may not return to Worcester Regional Airport until 2022. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

US Attorney Andrew Lelling filed an objection to a motion from Alfred Trenkler seeking release from federal prison because of coronavirus risks. Trenkler was convicted of first-degree murder in a 1991 bomb explosion that killed a Boston police officer. (Boston Herald)

Dean Kapsalis, who allegedly ran over a black man, Henry Tapia, in Belmont and yelled racial slurs at him, has had charges against him upped to murder. (Boston Globe)

Missing person cases involving people of color are less likely to be solved and represented in the media, according to a study from the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation. (Cape Cod Times)

A federal judge orders the destruction of the video of Robert Kraft at a massage parlor in Florida. (Associated Press)

MEDIA

CBS suspends two officials accused of racist and sexist conduct. (New York Times)

PASSINGS

J.D. Power III, the Worcester-born founder of the noted consumer research company that bears his name, dies at 89. (Telegram & Gazette)