The ghost of Stephanie Pollack

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack has plenty on her plate with trying to distribute a finite pot of money to deal with state’s aging transportation infrastructure as well as find the balance between her fiscally aware boss and a demanding public that wants it all without increased taxes or fares.

But her biggest battle is with a longtime adversary who was one of the leaders of the battle that forced the state to agree to the Green Line Extension as part of the Big Dig mitigation. That advocate was Stephanie Pollack.

“I wish she knew then what I know now,” Pollack told Greater Boston’s Jim Braude Wednesday as she talked her evolution.

Pollack, one of the most respected transportation experts in the state, is now one of the more skeptical voices when it comes to whether the long-planned, long-delayed project will ever get rolling again because of the cost, currently pegged at $2.3 billion after revisions. Pollack is worried the federal government will come out with a higher estimate when it reviews the Fiscal Management and Control Board’s financial plan that includes a $73 million funding gap.

Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation, where Pollack was once employed when it sued the state to force the extension, is another voice from the past challenging Pollack’s present positions.

“She had a different boss then,” Mares says.

In addition to the Green Line, Braude presented Pollack with challenges from old allies who now line up across the table on some of the more contentious transportation issues confronting the state and, in turn, Pollack.

Former governor Michael Dukakis, whose name graces the policy center at Northeastern University from which Gov. Charlie Baker plucked her and whose office was down the hall from Pollack at the school, is pushing the state to jump on board the long-dormant North-South Rail Link, a tunnel connecting North and South stations.

Dukakis has joined forces with his successor, former governor William Weld, a mentor to her current boss, in railing against those such as Pollack who are intent on expanding South Station, which Dukakis says is needless if the link is built and which would drain needed dollars away from his pet project. He said Baker is getting “lousy advice” from Pollack and her crew at MassDOT.

“The guy knows a lot about transportation, don’t you think?” Braude asked provocatively.

“He does know a lot about transportation,” Pollack agreed, before adding, not a little sarcastically, “I think I know a little bit.”

Pollack said the plans for South Station will move ahead independent of the North-South Rail project but said the state is committing $2 million to study the issue. The problem, she said, is the volume of issues that stakeholders want examined in the study, which would pump the cost to more than $2 million, money that she doesn’t have nor wants to spend. It’s a recurring theme.

Pollack also said her office and the control board are studying a possible pilot program for all-night bus service that was proposed by a predecessor of her current job, Jim Aloisi, as well as one-time allies Ari Ofsevit and Jeremy Mendelson in an opinion piece in CommonWealth and later voiced in The Codcast. Once again, said Pollack, it comes down to money.

“We haven’t ruled out trying new service pilots even while we try to fix the T but just as we said with the Green Line [extension], every day we think about the million riders we already carry, that’s our first priority,” she said. “If we want to try new things, we just need to try them in a responsible way.”

A rational and responsible approach, to be sure, but what would her old self say to that posture?

“Saying they don’t have enough money is not a good enough excuse,” the ghost of Stephanie Pollack said in 2003 when the T was considering alternatives to the Greenbush rail line.

Which is exactly what the reincarnated Stephanie Pollack is now saying.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The House passes a wide-reaching veterans bill. (State House News)

The Senate will take up transgender rights legislation today. It’s expected to easily pass, but faces a less certain fate in the House. (WGBH)

State leaders unveil a $100 million fund for workforce housing. (WBUR)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A jury rejected a lawsuit brought against Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera by Lorenza Ortega, who claimed the mayor fired her from her city job because of her personal relationship with former mayor William Lantigua. (Eagle-Tribune)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is holding a $25 per person fundraising breakfast at IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester on Sunday, and his campaign says there’s been no talk of scratching the event after word of a federal probe of union strong-arming in the Boston area. (Boston Herald)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial urges the Pittsfield Board of Health to hold firm against city councilors who questions anti-tobacco regulations.

An historic district commission in Sandwich rejected a proposal for an alternative school for special needs students as “too massive” for the neighborhood after giving initial indications the members were in favor. (Cape Cod Times)

Boston City Councilor Tim McCarthy calls for a hearing on the safety of hoverboards after one caught fire and drove three families out of a North End building. (Boston Herald)

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno calls for state and federal officials to provide more infrastructure aid to Gateway Cities. (Masslive)

CASINOS

A top official with Wynn Resorts says how quickly the company’s Everett casino can open all rests with Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and how firm a stand he takes on an environmental  permitting issue at a hearing next month. (Boston Herald)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

All eyes are on Paul Ryan because of his scheduled meeting today with Donald Trump, but the House Speaker is trying to focus attention on several measures to address the opioid epidemic. (Boston Globe)

Irony Department: The House Select Committee on Benghazi — yes, it still exists — is nearing the issuance of its final report but is in a spat with a conservative watchdog planning its own report, which representatives worry will politicize the findings. (National Review)

US Rep. Seth Moulton lays blame for the death of an Iraqi officer he befriended there with President Obama’s Middle East policy. (Boston Globe)

The Globe editorial page weighs in on the international lobster battle brewing (boiling?) between the US and Sweden.

ELECTIONS

Donald Trump says he may not release his tax returns, which would make him the first major-party nominee in four decades not to do so. He says there is “nothing to learn from them.” Mitt Romney, calling such a move “disqualifying,” thinks there must be a lot to learn from what he said must be a “bombshell” in Trump’s returns. (Boston Globe)  Timothy O’Brien, who saw Trump’s tax returns a decade ago as part of a libel suit, says he thinks they may contain some interesting information. (Bloomberg)

Sen. Marco Rubio is standing by his declaration that Trump should not have access to nuclear weapons but the one-time candidate says he still intends to support the Republican nominee. (Weekly Standard)

The Globe’s James Pindell says it’s time for Bernie Sanders to stop with the talk of flipping superdelegates to his column.

Michael Dukakis calls Trump “a gift from God to the Democratic Party.” (Boston)

If he had run for president, Vice President Joe Biden would have selected Sen. Elizabeth Warren as his running mate. (Politico)

Gov. Charlie Baker is walking a fine line on a likely November ballot question to repeal Common Core education standards, suggesting the effort is not necessary, but reluctant to come out against something that enjoys strong support among conservatives in his party. (CommonWealth)

MARIJUANA

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson admits she smokes pot and takes aim at what she calls the “absurd” claims of many of the state’s pols. “I’ve never heard of anyone embarking on a pot-fueled violent rampage,” she said. A Lowell Sun editorial says a study done by AAA undercuts the argument of those pushing for legalization of marijuana. The AAA study says marijuana OUI laws are useless. (CommonWealth) Worcester police say the man who crashed into a school bus full of children was high — on percocet. (Masslive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch wants the city’s name represented on the mammoth sign Boston Scientific is proposing to be placed on its new warehouse facility that can be seen from the Southeast Expressway. (Patriot Ledger)

ABC Disposal has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but the president of the New Bedford-based company, which services a number of southeast communities and Martha’s Vineyard, says trash pickup won’t be affected and the firm is still planning to open its $27 million waste recycling plant in Rochester next year. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

The Lowell School Committee balances its budget by eliminating 21 staff positions, many of them vacant because of retirements. (The Sun)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new report says care for Cape Cod’s growing elderly population could be in jeopardy without increased pay and benefits to draw the necessary workers. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

State Rep. Bruce Ayers of Quincy, who owns a service that converts vans for the disabled, wants state and local officials to toughen enforcement on people who park in handicapped-restricted zones. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An Eagle-Tribune editorial questions state policies on Plum Island  that have led to the construction of ever bigger and expensive homes, all of which could be dashed by storm surge. A feature in CommonWealth’s Summer 2015 issue examined the climate change dynamics on the island.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The family of the Taunton man who went on a violent rampage that included stabbing two people to death before he was fatally shot by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy faulted a hospital for releasing him a day after he sought treatment for mental illness. (Boston Globe)

The filming of a rap video turned into a violent melee between two groups in Dorchester, and police ended up arresting five people and seizing four illegal guns. (Boston Herald)

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office will investigate an incident captured on videotape in which Nashua police officers are seen beating a suspect who has dropped to his knees. (Boston Globe)

FBI Director James Comey says a spike in murder rates in some cities is the product of police being less aggressive in their jobs because of fears of being videotaped. (New York Times)

George Zimmerman is auctioning off the gun he used to kill Trayvon Martin with bids starting at $5,000. (Associated Press)