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.

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

 

BEACON HILL

Calling the system “an embarrassment,” state officials say the food stamps program is mess, with thousands of eligible people continuing to be denied benefits months after the outgoing Patrick administration made assurances last year that a $35 million computer system makeover was all running smoothly. (Boston Globe)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial calls state lawmakers “thieves and liars” for failing to return the income tax rate to 5 percent and heaps particular scorn on the Senate for voting to freeze the rate at 5.15 percent while easing the tax burden on low-income individuals. Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker has reservations about the Senate tax plan. (State House News)

The Senate passes a budget amendment barring state tax dollars being spent on the Olympics unless a special law is passed first. (Associated Press)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The manager of the Boston Public Library’s special collections unit has been on paid leave since April 20, nine days before the library reported to police that more than $600,000 of artwork had gone missing from the department she oversees. (Boston Herald)

Mayor Marty Walsh says Boston is on track to meet its goal of building 53,000 new units of housing by 2030, though 60 percent of the units permitted since 2011 are out of reach of most middle-class families. (Boston Globe)

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)

CASINOS

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)

The long-delayed bid by the Mashpee Wampanoag for a casino in southeastern Massachusetts is the wild card complicating the award of a state casino license in the area. (Herald News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Nebraska legislature votes to repeal the state’s death penalty, but the governor is vowing to veto the measure. (Omaha.com)

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.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Global banks, including Citigroup, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, and JPMorgan Chase, plead guilty to rigging foreign exchange markets. (New York Times)

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)

EDUCATION

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll pushes for a parent school advisory group selected by superintendents, but residents say they should do the selecting. (Salem News)

Rick Holmes has some sound advice to those stressing out over MCAS: Take a chill pill. (MetroWest Daily News)

Schools in Palmer are being plagued by bomb threats. (MassLIve)

HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy, on his blog, warns the rest of the nation about the dangers of hospital concentration using Partners HealthCare as his prime example. He also offers up some interesting video.

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)

TRANSPORTATION

The CapeFLYER Boston-to-Cape Cod train begins its third year of service this weekend. (WBUR)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

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

A 27-year-old Boston man, who is under arrest after fleeing the scene of auto accident he allegedly caused that led to the death of a 18-year-old bicyclist, has a long criminal record, but has never held a valid driver’s license, officials say. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Boston Herald editorial workers have rejected a new contract that would have reduced severance payouts. The existing contract, whose terms they were willing to live with, is already nothing to write home about. A statement issued by the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston says the Herald workers pay an eye-popping 93 percent of their own health care costs. (Media Nation)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson offers up a column of musings, including this small jab: “I wish my friends and readers would stop observing that my new column photo looks dumb, as if I am blind. Yes, the top of my head is cut off. No, it’s not my choice and no, I have not become bald. Our newspaper is now designed in Austin, Texas, by our new owner, Gatehouse Media, and that’s how its designers crop all the column photos. Off with our heads! If I must live with it, so should you.”  (Williamson is presumably referring to the print version, as she has a full head of hair in the online photo.)

David Letterman goes out on a soft note with a modest, underwhelming final show. Matthew Gilbert writes that the real finale was the show’s last month, when Letterman hosted a series of big-name guests. (Boston Globe)