T oversight comes down to arcane question
House, Senate split on who should appoint GM
WITH THE MBTA’S oversight board scheduled to sunset in a matter of weeks, the House and Senate are at odds over the arcane question of who should have the authority to appoint the transit authority’s general manager.
The Senate on Thursday approved legislation that would expand the oversight board from five to seven members and give the board the power to appoint the general manager. The House previously passed legislation expanding the board to seven members but leaving the general manager’s appointment in the hands of the governor’s secretary of transportation.
Gov. Charlie Baker appeared to side with the House approach at a press conference at the Greater Boston Food Bank on Thursday. Asked specifically if he wanted to retain the power to appoint the general manager, Baker said: “Yeah, I think the governor should have a role in appointing the general manager.”
“One of the reasons the T got into some of the difficulty, both financially, operationally, and organizationally, that it got into was because it got removed from what I think of as the accountability of the governor’s office and the executive branch generally,” Baker said. “Going forward, the more accountable the T can be and the operation and the leadership of the T can be to the executive branch, and particularly the governor, the lieutenant governor, the better off we’re going to be.”
“With six out of seven of the appointments, the governor would have de facto influence over the board,” Boncore said.
The Senator pointed out that the Senate’s legislation also requires the support of five members to approve any general manager appointment if that appointment is opposed by the secretary of transportation.
Boncore noted the Senate’s oversight proposal for the T is not unique in state government. For example, the board of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan International Airport, is set up on the exact same lines as the MBTA oversight board envisioned by the Senate legislation. The board has seven members – five appointed by the governor, one his secretary of transportation, and one appointed by the Massport Community Advisory Committee. The top administrator at Massport is appointed by the board. The governor has not raised concerns about that arrangement in the past.
Rep. William Straus of Mattapoisett, the House chair of the Transportation Committee, said he believes the governor should retain the ability, through his transportation secretary, to appoint the T’s general manager. He said doing otherwise runs counter to the last 20 years of reform efforts.
“A unified management is critically important to sound operation and identifying lines of responsibility,” Straus said in an email. “The public views it as one system, and things like this, which may appear arcane, helped create the isolated T that we still are trying to fix. If we are going to hold governors responsible for how the T (or other agencies run), then the legal structure has to reflect that.”
If the Legislature fails to approve some new form of oversight for the MBTA before June 30, the Fiscal and Management Control Board will go out of existence and oversight of the T will fall to the larger and more hands-off board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportartion.
Here’s what else Baker said at his press conference:
He offered no assurances that there will be enough money to fund the Student Opportunity Act, which the Legislature passed before the pandemic began to address underfunding of educational services in many lower-income communities. Baker said the state’s financial picture is unclear because there are too many moving pieces. For example, he said, it’s unclear how much money will flow into state coffers in mid-July, when state taxes for 2019 are due. He also chided the Legislature for failing to act quickly on a supplemental budget bill of more than $1 billion that he says will be fully reimbursed by the federal government. He said the Legislature needs to appropriate the funds and then he can go to the federal government for reimbursement. One reason there hasn’t been quick action by the Legislature on his supplemental budget request is that it consists of the appropriation request with no backup information on what the governor has spent the money on.