Senate Budget Leaves Out MBTA Control Board

A state budget proposal outlined by Democratic Senate leaders on Tuesday appeared to derail a key portion of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's plan to overhaul the struggling Boston-area transit system.

The $38 billion spending plan submitted by the Senate Ways and Means Committee includes a section that would revamp the makeup of the current board of directors of the state Department of Transportation, offering the governor more direct control over that board. But the Senate plan does not envision a separate financial control board that Baker has sought to oversee the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority until at least 2018.

"We believe we have made a decision to move away from the control board," said Sen. Thomas McGee, co-chair of the Legislature's Transportation Committee.

Senate budget writers also rejected Baker's call to loosen the MBTA from the restraints of a state law that limits the privatization of government services.

The budget, scheduled for floor debate next week, includes no new taxes and does not propose tapping into the state's $1.2 billion rainy day fund. It sets overall spending levels similar to those in the budget proposed by the governor in March and one approved by the House last month. House and Senate negotiators will have to agree on a final appropriations bill to be sent to Baker's desk in time for the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

Sen. Karen Spilka, chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, said the panel's version of the budget makes targeted investments in education, economic development and social programs aimed at lifting families out of poverty.

The plan calls for an additional $12 million to reduce the waiting list for families seeking state subsidies for pre-kindergarten services, a $7 million increase from the House budget. It also calls for modest increases in funding for state universities and community colleges, and would allow the University of Massachusetts to retain the tuition it collects from in-state students, rather than have it go first to the state and then be reallocated to the university.

The trial court system would receive a $20 million increase over current levels, and additional funding would be targeted for programs that fight homelessness, chronic unemployment and opiate addiction.

Baker testified before McGee's committee Monday on behalf of the MBTA bill he proposed after severe winter weather led to massive breakdowns and exposed weaknesses in financing and oversight of the agency that operates the nation's oldest subway system. A cornerstone of Baker's plan was the five-member control board - with three members appointed by the governor - that would have broad powers over spending, fares and labor union contracts.

While rejecting the control board, Senate leaders agreed with Baker on the need to replace the current seven-member MassDOT board with an 11-member board chaired by the Secretary of Transportation. The governor would appoint a general manager for the T who would report to the secretary, providing Baker with what Senate leaders called a direct line of control over the transit system.

Elizabeth Guyton, a spokeswoman for Baker, said Tuesday the governor continues to believe that his more comprehensive plan for change "is the best way to restore the transit system for riders after this winter's complete breakdown."

This article was originally published on May 12, 2015.



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