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Mass. Senate OKs Fiscal Control Board For MBTA

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The Senate shortly after midnight Friday morning unanimously passed a $38.1 billion budget plan for the fiscal year that begins in July after Democrats and Republicans came together over a compromise to put the MBTA under the authority of financial control board.

The deal over the MBTA brokered between Sen. Thomas McGee and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, with input from the governor's office, calls for a five member control board to given management authority over the T for at least three years, but no more than five years.

The control board would be made up of three members of the state Department of Transportation board, including the transportation secretary, and two additional members with experience in transportation finance and mass transit operation. McGee said that by making sure members of the MassDOT also serve on the control board he feels comfortable that his concerns about creating a disconnect in the transportation system and adding harmful layer of bureaucracy have been addressed.

The agreement does not address Gov. Charlie Baker's request an exemption for the MBTA from the "Pacheco Law" governing the privatization of services, and does not give the control board the authority to raise fares beyond what was allowed in the 2013 reform law that put a 5 percent cap every two years on fare hikes.

The Transportation Committee plans a second hearing on the governor's MBTA bill, which includes those requests, next week, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he's still hoping a separate bill addressing those and other matters will come out in June.

Baker, in a statement, thanked the Senate, but also dug in on the issue of suspending the "Pacheco Law," which the House recommended in its budget proposal.

“Establishing a focused, dedicated group of experts to diagnose and fix the problems of the MBTA is an important first step toward creating the world class transit system the Commonwealth deserves and I am pleased the Senate acted on this measure tonight," the governor said, before also thanking House Speaker Robert DeLeo, whose statement in support of a control board on Wednesday appeared to add fuel to Senate talks on an MBTA compromise.

"I thank Speaker DeLeo for his leadership on this issue, and the House for also including an important provision aimed at granting the T the necessary flexibility to increase both the system’s efficiency and the speed at which reforms may be enacted – and I look forward to the Senate adopting the bipartisan measures to fix our rapid transit system. Taxpayers contribute over a billion dollars to this system every year while millions of riders depend on it to get to work and pay the bills, so we owe it to them to act now and fix the T," Baker said.

Over the course of three days of debate, the Senate added roughly $80 million in spending to the Ways and Means budget proposal for a variety of programs and agencies, including a Sen. James Welch amendment approved Thursday night to give an extra $6 million to hospitals that serve a disproportionately large share of MassHealth patients at lower reimbursement rates than private payers.

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