T's oversight board dissolves without a replacement

·3 min read

Jul. 1—BOSTON — The term of an oversight board created to fix the MBTA's fiscal woes expired this week, and state leaders have yet to approve a replacement.

The five-member Fiscal and Management Control Board, which has led the transit agency since 2015, officially dissolved Wednesday. While proposals are being considered, the Legislature has yet to sign off on a new oversight board.

Under state law, governance of the T reverts to the Department of Transportation's board of directors, but there is widespread agreement that more direct oversight of the public transit agency is needed.

"The board has done a lot of good work but clearly there still a lot more to be done," said Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, a member of the Legislature's Committee on Transportation. "I'd like to see the oversight continue."

Tucker said he doesn't doubt the MassDOT board can manage the transit agency, but the MBTA is so large that it requires its own oversight board.

Gov. Charlie Baker has filed a proposal for a seven-member board that would include the state secretary of transportation, five other appointees of the governor, and another appointee representing communities served by the T's buses, subway and commuter rail.

The plan, included in a proposed supplemental budget, is similar to one he filed last year when the board's five-year term initially expired. Lawmakers punted on the previous proposal, opting instead to renew the board's term for one year.

The latest proposal is tied up in negotiations. Differences between House and Senate versions of the plan focus on the make-up of the board, who appoints its members and how often they meet.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, who helped to write the current control board law, said he also wants to see the oversight continue and favors expanding the board to seven members. He pushed for a proposal similar to Baker's as part of the state budget, but it was rejected.

"We have a form of governance in place that has worked well and has rescued the MBTA from a lot of systemic issues," Tarr said.

Earlier this month, the MBTA Advisory Board urged Beacon Hill leaders to move quickly to form a new governing body to oversee the agency.

Meanwhile, labor unions and transit advocates are pushing for representation on whatever replacement board lawmakers eventually agree on.

"MBTA riders and workers have deep knowledge of the system and know what's at stake if it fails," Jim Evers, president of Boston Carmen's Union, Local 589, wrote in a recent op-ed he co-authored with transit advocate Dwaign Tyndal. "But right now, because they lack formal representation, their voices are relegated to 'public input' sessions or brief testimony at the beginning of public meetings that are too often ignored."

Baker assembled the control board to fix the troubled T and rebuild its nearly bankrupt finances in the aftermath of crippling snowstorms in winter 2015.

The control board has been widely credited with helping the T emerge from the brink of financial ruin by reducing its budget deficit and streamlining services.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhinews.com.

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