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House, Senate Agree On Road Funding, MBTA Board

The Massachusetts State House and flag. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House and flag. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Thursday to keep the MBTA's Fiscal and Management Control Board in place for another year and to scrap a planned increase in road and bridge maintenance funding, effectively sealing the fate of the annual reimbursement program.

After weeks of disagreement between the two branches, the Senate adopted what one top lawmaker called a "compromise" that will direct $200 million toward the Chapter 90 program next fiscal year and will extend the about-to-expire board tasked with overseeing and managing the T until June 30, 2021.

Settling on a $200 million allocation toward road repairs represents a retreat from the $300 million that both the House and Senate had already approved in earlier legislation, reducing the funding level to where it has remained almost every single year for the past decade.

During a Thursday session where the Senate agreed to the compromise bill, Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore said he was "dismayed" to bring forward the lower amount of funding but felt it was important to reach a compromise quickly because of the "urgency of this matter."

Cities and towns each year seek clearance on the funding by spring and this year talks spilled into summer.

Gov. Charlie Baker originally proposed funding the Chapter 90 program at $200 million next year. In March, the House bumped the amount up to $300 million as part of its version of Baker's multi-year $18 billion transportation bond bill. The Senate did not act on the matter until June, when it also approved $300 million in a separate bill.

The compromise reached Thursday also stabilizes uncertainty surrounding the future of MBTA oversight, at least for another year.

The FMCB, which since its formation in 2015 has conducted dozens of public meetings every year to discuss and approve T budgets and projects, will expire on June 30 under current state law.

Without legislative agreement to extend or replace the board, control would revert to the Department of Transportation Board of Directors on July 1.

The new bill does not add any seats to the FMCB, but keeps it in place one additional year. It will still need to earn Gov. Charlie Baker's approval before the board is extended, and Baker previously recommended a seven-member new board similar to the Senate's original proposal.

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