FIXING THE T : THE BATTLE BEGINS

FullSizeRender (34)

^ the Governor (with Secretaries Stephanie Pollock and Jay Ash by his side) testifying in favor of his T Reform bill at yesterday’s legislative hearing

—- —- — —
At Gardner Auditorium yesterday it quickly became evident that everybody wants major reform of the MBTA except the T’s own employees. A good many T workers — not a full room, the auditorium was much more crowded for the recent Opioid Addiction hearing — sat behind him, stone faced as the Governor and his team of transportation advisers testified to the legislature’s transportation Committee in favor of the his T reform bill.

A link to the actual Reform Bill is here, in PDF format : http://www.mass.gov/governor/legislationexecorder/legislation/mbta-legislation.html

It also became obvious that sveral legislators were more ready to voice the T workers’ objections than the reforms that riuders, taxpayers, and the public have made the State’s number one current issue. One Senator, Linda Dorcena Forry, voiced one T worker objection in particular, the absenteeism documented in the report recently issued by the Governor’s MBTA reform panel. Absenteeism, as the panel’s report showed, has caused over 10,000 missed bus trips. Senator Forry wanted to excuse much of that absenteeism on one ground or another.

Perhaps there is room for adjustment on this or that critique made of T performance in the MBTA panel’s report, but now seems not the time to be making it. the public wants reform big time, and it wants it now. Polls say that T reform is the state’s number one issue. The public wants the entire T operation reconfigured, and ater this winter’s failures, on top of years of missed trips, equipment failures, and broken down trains, the public has absolutely had it up to here. This, however, you would be hard put to know from what was said yesterday by several members of the Transportation Committee.

House chairman William Straus, in paticular, let it be known — and showed it on his face — that he finds the Governor’s legislation unnecessary, even devious. “Exactly why do we need a Financial Control Board,” he asked the Governor several times, ‘when we’re already giving you a T Board appointed by you ?”

That really Is the question. The Governor didn’t really answer it — although one of his advisers did. the reason that he wants a T Financial Control board is to redirect, rearrange, rethink the T’s entire financial picture, including outsourcing some work now barred by the state’s Pacheco Law and overseeing the MBTA workers’ pension system. The T’s workers want none of this.

The Governor didn’t say it — most of his testimony accentuate big thenes, such as “if nothing changes, then nothing will change” — but fact is that the MBTA Board, as proposed, and whose creation the entire legislature accepts, gives the Governor only oversight powers. His MBTA Board can monitor the T, but it cannot change any part of its procedures. the legislature also is ready to give the Secretary of transportation power to name the MBTA general manager; but the manager cannot change work rules, or act outside the Pacheco Law, or reform the T workers’ pension system, or avoid binding arbitration of labor negotiations.

The Financial Control Board can do that. Which is exactly why the State senate, and some in the House, won’t grant it. or these legislators, it’s well and good to create a few appearances of reform, but unthinkable tlo enable actual, on the ground reform.

It really is a sweeping reform, one that has the power to change the MBTA forever.
Read the Governor’s own legislative argument :

“Effective Oversight and Management: A Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) will function as the board of the MBTA, consisting of 5 members, 3 appointed by the Governor, and 1 each referred to the Governor by the Senate President and Speaker of the House, through June 30, 2018. The daily operational, budgeting and planning duties would lie with a Chief Administrator appointed by the Governor.

“Reconstitute the MassDOT Board: Chaired by the Secretary of Transportation, the MassDOT Board will consist of 11 members, eight serving four-year terms coterminous with the Governor, and three serving three-year terms. Members will include a representative from an MBTA core community, an outer MBTA community and a city or town served by a regional transit authority.

“Financial Accountability and Transparency: The FMCB will immediately develop one and five year operating budgets with a focus on improving productivity and increasing revenues. A clear separation of the operating and capital budgets will be implemented and improved procurement practices will move the MBTA to assuring that its capital funds are timely and well spent. The MBTA Retirement Fund would be frozen for payouts to new hires until an independent audit is completed within 180 days and would be subjected to annual audits and public record law.

“Operations, Personnel and Contracting: The FMCB will have the ability to restructure the organization of the MBTA and install rigorous performance management metrics while altering existing procurement requirements and lifting the Pacheco Law’s application to the MBTA.”

No wonder the T’s workers don’t want it. Recess would be over, class about to begin.

This battle is not new to the State. As one of the Governor’s advisers testified yesterday, as receiver of the City of Springfield, he was empowered to make whatever decisions were needed — including labor decisions — to cobble the City’s finances into new and feasible order.

As mayor Joseph Sullivan — who chaired the Governor’s T Reform panel — testified, ‘we considered receivership for the T.” Receivership remains an option, if the legislature chooses the T’s workers over its riders and the taxpayers. But it’s a clumsy option, drastic, and likely to lead to much disruption on the job. I doubt the Governor wants to be seen as “breaking’ unions. Testifying yesterday, he went out of his way to reject any such intention.

And now we see the shrewdness of his recently naming Brian Lang, political director of Unite Here Local 26 Hotel Workers, to the MBTA board. that is hardly the move of a Governor with an anti-union purpose.

More likely is that the Governor will keep the issue vividly in the news, highlighting the legislature’s priorities, and counting on the public (and his allies in the business community) to — perhaps — move the T workers’ union leadership off its no-reform stance and, once that’s done, force reluctant Senators to agree to some measure of Financial Control Board, if not one as fully empowered as the Governor advocates.

In this fight, the Governor also counts one more, truly huge ally : the Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, who supports the Financial Control Board’s three year suspension of the Pacheco Law. All year long, DeLeo and the House have been fighting against the Senate’s moves to change the legislature’s joint committee rule. recently, DeLeo has been winning the fight, as his body has voted unanimously — ! — again and again on budget items that he and the Governor agree on, forcing the Senate to concur. This time, the Senate has committed itself beyond walk-back to an ideological course that directly challenges the Speaker. It’s his turn now. as the debate on the Governor’s T Reform bill goes forward, we will soon see if Speaker DeLeo can win this one. it will not be easy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s