T control board’s stance on revenues evolving

Seven months ago the MBTA’s oversight board indicated it was going to weigh in on whether the Legislature should explore new transportation funding initiatives, but since then there’s been nothing.

Joe Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the timing was not right back then. But soon it will be, he says, pointing out that there have been some new developments on the revenue front. Aiello also says the board is likely to lay out options for the Legislature rather than recommend anything specific, perhaps because of Gov. Charlie Baker’s continued opposition to new revenues.

The focus in March was on capital spending, but a series of initiatives (Red and Orange Line overhauls, South Coast Rail, and Green Line extension) all come on line in the next five years and new expenses (pension liabilities and family and medical leave costs) are putting upward pressure on the T’s operating budget.

The other big unknown is the cost of a commuter rail makeover. The T is reviewing a series of options for commuter rail, and there is growing support on the board for an all-day, electrified, subway-like system. Aiello says the board is likely to make a decision about the future of commuter rail in November, and the long-term cost could be substantial.

“But we don’t have two cents to rub together to get that done,” Aiello said. “If, in fact, that is also something that Beacon Hill views as something important to continue to support the economy and the environment here, that’s an increment that is significant enough that we need to get that data out in public as quickly as possible. “

Aiello characterizes the board’s role as fact-finding rather than recommending a specific course of action.  “Our view at the board is to weigh out choices for the public to see and lay out choices for the Legislature,” he said. Additional suggestions might include running the Blue Line autonomously or expanding the bus network, he said.

That wasn’t the view of fellow board member Brian Lang in March.  At the time, the T was preparing to hike fares, and Lang said the T shouldn’t be increasing the cost of riding the transit system in isolation from other modes of transportation. He called on the Legislature to “grow a little courage” and assess higher fees on ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, boost the gas tax, and increase tolls at peak travel periods.

Those types of recommendations will not be included in what the control board lays out, Aiello said. “It’s certainly not our role to tell anyone that tolls ought to be raised or more tolls ought to be implemented on a mode we don’t control. That’s not how we view our role,” he said.

In a wide ranging interview on the Codcast from CommonWealth magazine, Aiello also:

Apologized for bus comments – Last month, Aiello called a presentation by T staff on bus improvements a “timid effort,” but now he says that was a mistake. “Reflecting on that meeting, I was probably a bit too harsh; not probably, I was too harsh on the staff,” he said.

Aiello said the T bus plan was too cautious. “What I was hearing was a reflection of the fact that we don’t have the culture change completed yet at the T,” he said. “The culture at the T has been just to accept to do the best you possibly can with the resources made available to you without a real sense of where the organization ought to be heading and without a strong internal advocacy to fight for the kinds of changes and resources needed to put the T properly on that pathway. “

Aiello said bus improvements are very hard because the T doesn’t control the roadway infrastructure.

“When you look at bus very little is under our control. We own the buses. We drive the buses. But we don’t own the streets, the sidewalks, even most of the bus stops are not owned by the T directly,” Aiello said. “I want to change the notion that this is hard and, therefore, we need to really take our time.”

Praised General Manager Steve Poftak – “He’s got every ingredient you need to be a terrific leader,” Aiello said, noting Poftak has strong interpersonal skills, is committed to culture change at the T, and has a deep knowledge of the authority. Aiello said riders won’t recognize the T in five years. “It took a while to get there, but we’re delighted that he’s the GM,” Aiello said. Poftak in December replaced Luis Ramirez, who was hired by Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and ousted after just 15 months on the job.

Sings Baker’s praises — “Everybody loves the way Gov. Baker has accepted responsibility and shown real leadership,” Aiello said. “I can’t say enough about the governor for saying ‘I got this.’ For something that is a pretty dangerous thing to say I own it, he’s been wonderful.”

Talks up new board – The Fiscal and Management Control Board is due to expire at the end of next June. Aiello said there are a lot of conversations going on about what kind of board is needed in the future. The current board is on record favoring a small board that would be coterminous with the governor and include the secretary of transportation. Aiello said the board would also like to see the number of meetings scaled back from three a month to one every two weeks to give senior staff more time to do their work. “A meeting every other week is a better pace at this point, probably every other week is sufficient.”

Aiello said there may be a need for some continuity between this board and the next. “If the governor deems that he wants one or two people to stay on the board and serve out the rest of this current term, I’m sure any of the members he would ask would agree to do that. You may see that happening,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Alexandra Oliver-Dávila says Massahusetts doesn’t have to be the worst state in the nation for Latinos. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest solar goal is called too small. (CommonWealth)

Independent patient advocate Jen Melanson says it’s time for Beacon Hill to rein in step therapy. (CommonWealth)

An amendment to the Senate education funding bill has drawn the ire of supporters of strong accountability tied to new funding. (Boston Globe) CommonWealth reported on the amendment last Thursday following the Senate vote. 

Nearly 15 years after the death of a Marshfield girl prompted an overhaul of the state’s drunken-driving laws, the girl’s grandfather says Massachusetts has fallen far behind. (Patriot Ledger) 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu calls for abolishing the Boston Planning and Development Agency. (CommonWealth)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump has approved a pullback of US forces in northeast Syria to allow a Turkish military operation there against US-backed Kurds, a decision that goes against recommendations of Pentagon and State Department officials. (New York Times)

A federal judge ruled that Trump must hand over eight years of personal and corporate tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is investigating possible violations of state law in payments made by Trump fixer Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels. (New York Times)

The general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted, but then quickly deleted, a message of support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong — and all hell has broken loose. (The Ringer

ELECTIONS

At WBUR, Kimberly Atkins sums up the legislative records of Democratic primary rivals Sen. Ed Markey and Congressman Joe Kennedy

Pete Buttigieg pens an op-ed outlining his Medicare for All Who Want It plan, which he said would address the problem of unaffordable prescription drugs. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Students at Salem State University were moved out of their housing units after mold was discovered in one building, and some are upset with how they were treated. (Salem News

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Boston research physician, William Kaelin, Jr., will share with two colleagues the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their research on how cells adapt to the availability of oxygen. (Boston Globe)

The state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs says the cost for aerial spraying over large parts of Bristol and Plymouth Counties this summer due to the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus outbreak was $2.7 million. (Standard-Times) 

A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University found that a higher density of gun shops, lack of health insurance and larger populations of veterans are associated with higher adult suicide rates across the country— including in Bristol and Plymouth counties. (Brockton Enterprise) 

ARTS/CULTURE

The dug-up Haymarket public art didn‘t go missing; it was stored in a shipping container. (CommonWealth)

Gregory Ruffer has submitted his resignation as president and CEO of Boston Center for the Arts after a former student of Ruffer’s in central Florida aired allegations that he had sent anonymous, inappropriate emails, tried to seduce him, and lied about having sex with him. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION 

Outside audit finds a MassDOT board panel shares some of the blame for the failure to process out-of-state license notifications at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. (CommonWealth)

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno hits the MBTA for choosing a South Korean firm to build new commuter rail cars rather than CRRC MA, which operates a factory in his hometown. (MassLive)

Marcu Gamo of Allison+Partners says Generation Z is changing the transportation dynamic. (CommonWealth)

A Pioneer Institute report says the MBTA continues to have trouble hiring enough personnel to oversee its ambitious capital spending plans. (Boston Herald

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Colleges can lead on climate change, say John Tourtelotte and Chris Warren. (CommonWealth)

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has cut its contracting ties for maintaining the park with a Dorchester nonprofit that employs people with disabilities in favor of a for-profit Kentucky company. (Boston Globe

The estimated cost for installing sewers throughout Hyannis is in, and it’s a doozy: $1.06 billion over the next 30 years. (Cape Cod Times) 

CASINOS

With traffic manageable, Encore Boston Harbor dispenses with its hefty self-parking fees. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A 76-year-old man died after an assault at Oxford Manor, a nursing home in Haverhill, and 83-year-old Jose Veguilla was arrested in connection with the incident. (Eagle-Tribune

MEDIA

WGBH’s Beat the Press raises questions about a Boston Globe Magazine issue about the 150th anniversary of Boston Children’s Hospital that seemed a lot like sponsored content but wasn’t labeled as such.

Sports Illustrated is laying off about half of its staff. (NPR)