Disrupting business as usual @ the MBTA

For MBTA riders, life on the T during the Wednesday morning rush was perfectly normal. There were “moderate” disabled-train delays on the Orange Line, signal problems on the Green Line, and a whole lot of carping going on in the Twitterverse.

But from the Transportation Building to the Corner Office, life at the MBTA is anything but normal after a legislative conference committee put the finishing touches on the 2016 state budget that includes a fiscal and management control board for the MBTA.

It’s a major victory for Gov. Charlie Baker, who can begin to scrape out the bureaucratic and operational rot that has come to define the inner workings of the MBTA.

That Baker got any suspension of the Pacheco law at all (three years rather than the five proposed by the House) is itself an historic concession by state legislative leaders and a blow to the MBTA unions, given how zealously the two forces have protected their Pacheco prerogatives in the past.

The control board has a slew of powers, including the ability to reorganize and consolidate MBTA departments. The Inspector General’s office will also have a key role to play, overseeing the agency’s procurement of goods and services and setting up a special internal audit unit to detect waste, fraud, and abuse.

Transit advocates can rejoice for now that there is no change in the current fare policy of no more than 5 percent increases every two years. And the appointment power for the next MBTA general manager goes to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. What’s unclear is whether other issues, such as binding arbitration, could be taken up in subsequent transportation legislation.

The fine print of the state budget compromise and its political implications will be sliced and diced over the next few months. For starters, the control board paradigm is fraught with political peril for the governor. Baker now owns all the delays, the signal problems, and the commuter carping. Can a temporary, basically unpaid board that meets not less than three times a month disrupt an agency that eats reforms for breakfast? The board is mandated to operate through June 2018, with the possibility of an extension through 2020. Three years from now, Baker will be up for re-election.

The fiscal and management control board could also shape up to be the last major test for the MBTA as we know it. Turning temporary control of a quasi-independent agency over to a small group of unpaid outsiders is about as disruptive as it gets.

How the unions will respond to the new dynamic is anyone’s guess, but resistance may be futile.  Because if the fiscal and management control board fails, the only option left to the Legislature will be to heed the calls to turn the MBTA into a state agency.



House and Senate negotiators break their budget stalemate by finding a way to fund an increase in the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and by suspending Pacheco law regulations at the MBTA for three years. (CommonWealth)

Lobbying expenditures by renewable energy firms pick up dramatically on Beacon Hill. (Associated Press)

The verdict on the value of gubernatorial trade trips? Unclear. (Boston Globe)


The public works commissioner in Worcester says he did not order security guards at Boynton Park to target people illegally walking their dogs there. One of the guards says he was just following orders when he drove through a barricade to warn dog walkers. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Lawrence Superior Court judge, citing “an immediate threat to public health,” orders the city to issue burial permits to a funeral home even though the funeral home owner was delinquent in paying burial fees to the city. (Eagle-Tribune)


Boston 2024 is under pressure to increase public support for the Olympic bid, but is reluctant to go into full media campaign mode, which some think could prompt a backlash. (Boston Globe)

Mayor Marty Walsh says he wants to press ahead with a massive redevelopment of Widett Circle regardless of whether Boston wins the 2024 Olympic bid. (Boston Globe)


Walsh remains steadfast in his battle against Wynn Resorts’ plans for a Everett casino. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, a new lawsuit brought by casino opponents challenges an MBTA decision to sell some land in Everett to Wynn for $6 million. (Boston Globe)


US Rep. Katherine Clark is a rookie on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s team. (CommonWealth) WBUR profiles Clark as part of its series on newcomers to Congress.

Following in the footsteps of Needham and other Massachusetts communities, Hawaii becomes the first state to require that cigarette buyers be 21 or older. (Governing)


The Sanders surge is real, writes Scot Lehigh, who drops in on a rally that drew 6,500 people to hear the Vermont senator in Portland, Maine. (Boston Globe)

The new race: how fast can Republicans run from Donald Trump? (National Review)


CVS Health Corp. said it is resigning from the US Chamber of Commerce in the wake of news that the business group was lobbying against anti-tobacco laws around the world. (New York Times) Harvard health policy expert John McDonough teed up the US Chamber last week in CommonWealth, saying it deserves “shame and disgrace” until the group stops its work on behalf “global merchants of death.”

Wages for Massachusetts occupations have yet to regain the buying power they had before the 2007 recession. (Boston Globe)

Microsoft announces a major round of layoffs, mostly in the company’s disappointing cell phone division. (New York Times)

A federal judge orders Time Warner Cable to pay nearly $230,000 to a Texas woman for making 153 robocalls to her in violation of the law. (Time)

An analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds a disconnect between affluence and charitable giving, with many areas of higher income having a low percentage of donations, including all Massachusetts counties.


The Pioneer Institute says Mitchell Chester, the state education commissioner, should recuse himself from involvement in a decision on whether the state should adopt a new standardized test because he heads the national group advocating for the test. (State House News)

Former UMass president Robert Caret reaped a gain of more than $400,000 on the sale of his downtown Boston condo, whose mortgage was partly paid by an annual $60,000 housing allowance from the university. (Boston Globe)


The Boston Museum of Fine Arts is canceling “Kimono Wednesdays” after protesters decried the event as racist. (Associated Press)


CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan tries to make sense of his health care bills

Obamacare is promoting greater competition and pricing transparency — just as it was supposed to, writes Dante Ramos. (Boston Globe)

Heroin use is rising among young women and those with higher incomes. (Boston Globe)New Bedford police are reporting a disturbing uptick in the number of opioid overdoses so far this summer. (Standard-Times)

Paul Levy picks apart a Herald story that pins the rise in health care costs on escalating drug prices and increased use of specialists, both of which he says are not factors in Massachusetts. (Not Running a Hospital)


Uber versus the taxi industry. You decide. (CommonWealth)


An appeals officer for the Department of Environmental Protection ruled officials must apply the state’s environmental justice policy in an appeal of a permit for a controversialBrockton power plant fiercely opposed by residents and the City Council. (The Enterprise)

Swansea and Somerset have filed plans for bulk energy buying and another eight South Coast communities are planning to follow suit to save residents an estimated $112 per household on electricity bills this winter. (Herald News)


Massachusetts is starting to rethink its tough-on-crime approach. (CommonWealth)

Prosecutors allege Robert Scatamacchia, the vice president of the Haverhill City Council and a former undertaker, stole more than $70,000 from individuals who had prepaid for funerals. (Eagle-Tribune)

Lowell agrees to pay $232,500 to the family of a woman who died of alcohol poisoning while in police custody. (The Sun)

The Salem News backs new opioid treatment efforts by the Gloucester police and the Essex County district attorney.

A judge has dismissed criminal charges against a Hull teacher who was suspended and then resigned following allegations of open and gross lewdness and disorderly conduct at Boston’s South Station. (Patriot Ledger)

The New York Times has a disturbing profile of a Louisiana prosecutor who has secured more than one-third of the state’s death penalty convictions and says his goal is to “kill more people.”