House Speaker DeLeo Backs Creation Of MBTA Control Board
House Speaker Robert DeLeo's mid-afternoon statement endorsing Gov. Charlie Baker's call for an MBTA control board added to the pressure facing senators who could weigh in on the issue later Wednesday during their annual budget debate.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has filed an amendment to add an MBTA control board to the T reforms already included in the Senate budget proposal.
Several senators told the News Service they didn't know how the speaker's statement would impact the debate after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg earlier this week said he hoped Republicans would "respect the committee process" and let the Transportation Committee take its time vetting the governor's proposal.
"It all depends on what Bruce chooses to do, but if there's a call for a vote don't be surprised to see a caucus called quickly," said Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, an Arlington Democrat. Donnelly said he could support a control board "under the right conditions."
"I just want to make sure my constituents can get on the T and get to work," he said.
Rosenberg has described himself as "personally skeptical" of a control board, and Transportation Committee Co-Chair Sen. Thomas McGee is opposed to the idea, having called it as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.
Baker said Tuesday that assertions that the control board would take away collective bargaining rights are "not true" and repeatedly said the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Board, which oversees the T and other transportation agencies and is under his control, only meets once a month and is focused on the "big picture."
Baker said he could "perhaps" have a MassDOT subcommittee take on the responsibilities he wants to assign to a control board, but made clear that he believes a control board featuring individuals knowledgeable about public transit and focused only on the T is his preference.
"A lot of people would say that a bunch of this is about focus, urgency and energy," Baker said. He said he has two people in mind for the board, but declined to identify them.
McGee declined to comment Wednesday afternoon when approached by the News Service entering and then again leaving Rosenberg's office shortly after DeLeo issued his statement.
A senior official in the governor's office acknowledged that the administration has been pressing its case this week with many senators in anticipation of a possible vote on Tarr's amendment.
"I deeply appreciate the leadership of House Speaker Robert DeLeo in standing with riders, taxpayers, businesses and workers in support of much needed MBTA reform. I join the speaker in recognizing the seriousness of the problems that plague the MBTA and the immediacy of the need for reform. I urge the Senate to support a bipartisan reform proposal and provide the Commonwealth with the world class transit system it deserves," Baker said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Dorchester Democrat, called the governor's proposal a "good step," and one that she could support if structured correctly, but she said she would prefer to see his bill move through the Transportation Committee rather than added to the budget.
"I hope we can take the time to fully evaluate the governor's proposal. There are things the MBTA could be doing without a control board and we need that to start now," Forry said, mentioning the long-term capital and maintenance planning that Baker's legislation recommends.
Forry also said she would be opposed to lifting the current cap on fare increases and giving a control board the authority to raise fares as it sees fit.
Early Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of business and community groups officials and mayors came together to back Baker's plan to overhaul the management structure of the MBTA and put the transit agency under the authority of a control board for the next three years.
Members of the Coalition for a World Class Public Transit System, joined by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, held an event to press for reforms they said are critical to creating an efficient, reliable public transportation system.
Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, said residents of the outer sections of Boston rely on the T for their daily lives. "Those of us in communities of color would like to see a T that takes someone from Mattapan to downtown in less than an hour," he said.
Polito said the financial management and control board was the administration's "top priority" among the tools it has asked for to reform the management at the T.
Leaders from groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation were joined by a handful of mayors from Revere, Gardner, Attleboro, Framingham, Braintree and Melrose.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said snowstorms should be a time for the T to "shine" and help people stay out of their cars, but instead he said residents of his city this past winter either couldn't commute to work on the train or found themselves "stranded in Boston."
Fiorentini has spoken to lawmakers about his support for the control board, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill. DeLeo recently said he wanted to discuss a control board with Dempsey as part of the speaker's decision-making process.
"I don't know anything about the internal politics. That's not my bag. My field is to try to win over the mayors and put together a coalition and to get a resolution out of the (Massachusetts Municipal Association,) but the internal stuff at the State House I leave that to the pros," Fiorentini told the News Service.
On the coalition's website www.fixourt.com, visitors can sign a petition as well as easily Tweet leaders in the House and Senate.
This article was originally published on May 20, 2015.