MBTA pawn in the House-Senate proxy war

With the backing of the most powerful man in the Beacon Hill triumvirate, Gov. Charlie Baker may be inching closer to the formation of a temporary fiscal and management control board to deal with the MBTA.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has decided to throw in his lot with the governor and support a control board.  “We must make the changes necessary to fix the system,” he said in a statement.

Where DeLeo was precise, Senate President Stan Rosenberg was vague, failing to even hint at his current thinking: “We understand the urgency to get a bill to the governor…to ensure that a reliable and efficient public transit system will be in place before next winter. We assume the House will join us in this effort,” he said in his statement.

Assumptions are dangerous things. Will the Legislature really move to fix the MBTA once and for all or does the MBTA become a pawn in the proxy war between the House and the Senate?

DeLeo and Rosenberg haven’t been in sync since Rosenberg went public with his dissatisfaction over the joint committee system and went ahead with planning for separate Senate committees. Fault lines emerged again over taxes, and they aren’t in agreement on what should be done at the T.

DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat who probably heard his fair share of winter commuting horror stories, has come around to the idea that desperate times calls for drastic measures. As much as both DeLeo and Rosenberg like to trumpet the 2009 and 2013 MBTA reforms, they failed to scrape out the deep rot within the MBTA bureaucracy and workforce.

Mayors from Attleboro, Braintree, Framingham, Gardner, Haverhill, Lawrence, Melrose, and Revere back a control board. Several statewide business groups also back a board. The MetroWest Daily News supports a control board, as does the Boston Globe. 

The refrain from control board opponents like Rosenberg and others is that the MBTA doesn’t need a new layer of bureaucracy. The position ignores the fact that their preferred option is an expanded MassDOT board that adds more bodies to a weak governing mechanism that has yet to prove its utility as a vehicle for reforming the state transportation system. Indeed, some observers, like former transportation secretary Jim Aloisi and Pioneer Institute’s Greg Sullivan, have suggested that MassDOT dispense with a board completely.

The House and the Senate would have to reconcile labor provisions in the governor’s bill. The House budget already includes a temporary suspension of the anti-privatization Pacheco Law, which the Senate does not support. Lawmakers have not been as publicly vocal about the final and binding arbitration provisions under the Baker plan. The MBTA is the only state agency whose unions have recourse to binding arbitration.

Yet Baker may be able to peel off a few senators, if he agrees to jettison the cap on fare hikes and a repeal of a relatively new allocation of state money that the MBTA gets for the next five years.

Rosenberg suggested that the joint transportation committee be left to put the governor’s bill through its paces and come up with a resolution by the summer even though the Senate is actively studying alternatives to joint committees. If the Senate President really wants to push DeLeo’s buttons, could the MBTA could be the test case for a new legislative committee structure?

Rosenberg has shown that although he’s new to power, he relishes a good fight. He’s already down two to one on the MBTA. Is he willing to give ground on Pacheco? Would DeLeo consider delegating powers that Baker seeks to a subcommittee of the MassDOT board? Will pushing the MBTA pieces around on the Beacon Hill chessboard make any dent in the agency’s legendary dysfunction?

The battle to rebuild the MBTA is underway, a faceoff that doesn’t have many direct consequences for Rosenberg’s powerbase back home in Amherst. DeLeo, on the other hand, has to give the good citizens of Winthrop and greater Boston the appearance of having done something more meaningful beyond adding more people to MassDOT’s monthly confab.




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Boston officials have terminated the Boston Redevelopment Authority‘s long-time planning director, Kairos Shen, who had an enormous mark on the city over 22 years at the agency. (Boston Globe)

Trinity Financial, the Boston developer that was the sole bidder for the massive Hamilton Canal project in Lowell, is pulling out. (Lowell Sun)

Manchester wins a $360,000 federal grant to install temporary docking space in the harbor. (Gloucester Times)


Boston greatly expands its lawsuit against the state gambling commission for its awarding of a license to Wynn Resorts for a Everett casino, alleging that the decision was the “product of a corrupt process to favor Wynn.” (Boston Globe)

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Rand Paul took to the Senate floor yesterday and spoke against reauthorization of the Patriot Act — for 11 hours. (Washington Post)

Governing analyzes new Census city population estimates and finds strong growth in Texas and declines in parts of the Midwest.


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With interest in locally grown food expanding, farmers say they need more slaughterhouses in Massachusetts to avoid having to take their animals out of state. (Eagle-Tribune)

Faneuil Hall’s manager drops its bid to charge street performers. (WBUR)


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Jonathan Chait explains why it’s Republicans, not Democrats, who are fretting that the Supreme Court might throw out a key provision of Obamacare. (New York)

A new city report calls for more detox beds in Boston to help those with opioid addiction. (Boston Herald)


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Methuen police are testing body cameras. (Eagle-Tribune)

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