The underinflated MBTA football
There should be as much handwringing about the MBTA as there is about Tom Brady and underinflated footballs.
But there isn’t. MBTA riders are waiting on Gov. Charlie Baker and state lawmakers to do the right thing and fix the T once and for all. The problem is that despite the winter of 2015, doing the right thing seems to be less important than using the MBTA as a political football to score political points.
Baker has focused on governance rather than the oft-tread topic of finances, and his hand-picked MBTA review panel came up with a plan for a fiscal and management control board. Sen. Thomas McGee, the Senate transportation committee co-chair, rejected that proposal, preferring to give the governor an expanded board and direct authority through the secretary of transportation to hire the MBTA general manager.
In a speech to the Lynn Chamber of Commerce, McGee outlined his opposition to the T reform plan being pushed by Baker, but then added: “You’re the governor – it’s up to you to make sure the MBTA works properly.”
At the first meeting of the new MassDOT board Wednesday, Polito reminded the group that they had oversight authority for multiple agencies, not just transit, but for highways, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, aeronautics, and other rail sectors like freight. In case that wasn’t clear, Pollack cut to the chase: “What I and the governor do not expect you to be is a fiscal and management control board for the MBTA.”
Translation: the Baker administration is pushing back against the Senate’s talking point that seven people (or even 11 under the governor’s reform plan) meeting once a month over the next three years can deal with an agency in crisis. All it takes is a few hours in a MassDOT board meeting to understand that it is not the vehicle that can accomplish an overhaul of the MBTA.
What is also clear is that Senate leaders view the prospect of a control board as some sort of existential threat to “one MassDOT,” political shorthand for undermining the Massachusetts Department of Transportation with a new layer of bureaucracy. How a temporary control board creates a new, permanent layer of bureaucracy has yet to be explained.
Ironically, Baker faces a problem similar to the one former governor Deval Patrick faced when he identified financing as the major problem facing the MBTA: Overreach.
Patrick’s $1 billion finance plan was rejected out of hand because it came with a list of add-ons, changes to the tax code and money for education, that state lawmakers found untenable. Instead of dealing with the reality that the MBTA needed a consistent infusion of cash or a revamped funding mechanism, lawmakers stripped away half of the funding Patrick requested.
Similarly, Baker set the table for the pushback he’s now getting. By expressing “frustration” and “disappointment” with the MBTA workforce and running off a popular, highly regarded general manager during the historic blizzards of 2015, the rank and file view Baker as a threat to their livelihoods, instead of someone who could improve the MBTA for their benefit.
Then Baker touched the third rail of Massachusetts politics by going after the Pacheco Law that mandates proof of savings before privatizing. It’s debatable whether the Pacheco law is a key factor in the profound fiscal and management failures at the MBTA. But for union members, even a temporary suspension of the Pacheco law is a union-busting tactic.
Proposing to repeal caps on fare increases and revoking dedicated financial assistance to the MBTA, where the “B” should stand for bankrupt, also makes his motives suspect in the eyes of riders and transit advocates.
Yet the riding public cares not a whit about political footballs like “one MassDOT” or the Pacheco law. Baker understands that and his impatience with McGee’s political tactics is beginning to show. He told the State House News Service, “There seems to be a recalcitrance or an unwillingness to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to truly fix the T.”
McGee and others may be gambling that Charlie Baker gets the blame and suffers the electoral consequences if MBTA fails to improve or suffers another meltdown. But with two rounds of ineffective MBTA reforms behind them and, another perhaps in the works, Baker has some cards to play, too, namely that political leaders like McGee aren’t serious about dealing with the MBTA.
In an interview with the Lowell Sun, Senate President Stan Rosenberg says he doesn’t know a better public manager than Gov. Charlie Baker.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo stands with personal care attendants seeking $15 an hour. (State House News)
MARATHON BOMBING TRIAL
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev‘s fate is now in the hands of the jury, which began deliberations yesterday afternoon on whether he should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or death. (Boston Globe)
Gov. Charlie Baker is growing impatient with Boston 2024 over its plans, saying much more detailed information on venues and financing needs to be forthcoming by early next month in order to allow public scrutiny before a September deadline to confirm Boston’s bid with the International Olympic Committee. (Boston Globe)
A special prosecutor’s report that determined no criminal charges be brought against former Fall River mayor Will Flanagan included scores of texts from Flanagan showing his efforts last summer to discredit recall organizers who successfully ousted him in December. (Herald News)
Opponents are considering asking for a recount on the casino referendum in Brockton which passed by a mere 1 percent. (The Enterprise)
The House votes to end the National Security Agency’s program for collecting phone call data, with the Massachusetts delegation split down the middle. (Telegram & Gazette)
House Republicans defeated a request to increase Amtrak funding and accused Democrats of using the deadly crash in Philadelphia for political points. (New York Times)
US Rep. Seth Moulton says Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s no-jail approach to dealing with drug addicts could become a national model. (Salem News)
Keller@Large says Sen Elizabeth Warren‘s rising clout as evidenced by her triumph over President Obama on the trade agreement is due to her “bluntness and candor,” though he points out areas where she falls down on it.
The Herald suggests Massachusetts has been given a cold shoulder by the Obama administration in seeking disaster aid since Republican Charlie Baker took the governor’s seat, in contrast to the federal largesse that came our way under his predecessor and noted Friend of Barack, Deval Patrick.
Beyonce backs Hillary. (Daily News)
Harpoon CEO Dan Kenary takes over as chairman of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)
Christie’s auction house became the first art dealer to have a $1 billion week in sales. (New York Times)
Jeff Riley, the state receiver for the Lawrence schools, says enrollment is surging and new school space will be needed. (Eagle-Tribune)
Marshfield police have stationed additional officers at the high school after a note was found in a boys’ room threatening to blow up the building. (Patriot Ledger)
Salem school officials say student performance at the Bowditch elementary school is alarmingly low. (Salem News)
The Westport School Committee once again voted 2-2 and failed to ratify the negotiated teachers contract after the the first vote also ended in a tie but was ruled invalid because one member who voted had not been sworn in. (Herald News)
The Fairhaven School Committee voted unanimously against a school choice program that would have allowed out-of-town students to attend Fairhaven schools. (Standard-Times)
Tufts Medical Center and Boston Medical Center end merger talks. (Boston Herald)
Health care expert John McDonough grades Obamacare. (CommonWealth)
Walter Ramos, CEO of DotHouse Health will become the new president of Carney Hospital, making him its fifth leader since Steward Health Care System acquired the Dorchester hospital in 2010. (Dorchester Reporter)
The Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia was going too fast, more than 100 miles per hour. (Time)
Fourteen Greater Boston communities agree to form task force to work on climate change readiness. (WBUR)
In a reversal, Boston police officials say they will begin releasing information about any officer who is arrested. The department refused an earlier Boston Globe request for information on officers who had been charged with drunk driving.
Police will not bring charges against a Quincy father who forgot his 1-year-old daughter in the car when he got on the T in North Quincy heading to work before remembering when he got to Cambridge and hurried back. But they are seeking animal cruelty charges against a woman who left her dogs locked in a car while she went shopping in downtown Quincy Tuesday. (Patriot Ledger)
Eileen McNamara says Sean Ellis, who is about to walk free on bail in connection with the murder of a police detective, deserves a chance at real justice. (WBUR)
A Haverhill property management company is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from condo association owners by sending them phony bills. (Eagle-Tribune)
An advocate for family members of homicide victims says more racial diversity in the Boston Police Department ranks would bring greater focus on the hundreds of unsolved homicides on the books. (Boston Herald)
In a gruesome case of animal cruelty, a Dorchester juvenile has been arrested in connection with the dismemberment of cats behind an abandoned house. (Boston Herald)
MEDIAthe Belmont guy who sold jokes to The Tonight Show and Late Show for $75 a pop? No joke, though his gig is now up. (Boston Globe)
Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, and Smithers have left the building: Harry Shearer, the voice of the three antagonists on The Simpsons, is leaving the long-running animated cult favorite. (New York Times)