State legislative leaders have acknowledged for more than 18 months that they had a big transportation decision coming: the board that oversees the MBTA goes out of business in July, unless they take action.
But true to form for Beacon Hill, a solution has yet to emerge with just five weeks to go.
The T’s current governing board, called the Fiscal and Management Control Board, was established by Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature in 2015. It was intended as a temporary panel after the epic storms of that winter brought the agency to a halt and laid bare its outdated infrastructure and management practices.
If no action is taken by the end of June, oversight will default to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which also manages the state’s highways and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Within a few years of the creation of the control board, the Baker administration, lawmakers, and key transit advocates all seemed to agree that the MBTA is so massive and complex that it warrants focused oversight to scrutinize budgets, construction contracts, and major policy decisions.
Baker and the House of Representatives have each pitched a plan, though those came in legislative proposals long before nearly all of Beacon Hill’s focus shifted to the coronavirus pandemic.
Baker called for a new seven-member board, which would include a seat for the state’s Transportation Secretary, who currently participates in board meetings but is not a member. The House, meanwhile, called for an extension of the existing five-member board, but would add two seats: one representing the city of Boston, another representing all other communities served by the T.
The Senate has not yet put forward its own proposal. The chamber’s transportation chairman, Joseph Boncore, said the Senate is “acutely aware” of the timeline and that he believes the T requires continued tight oversight.
With time running out, a group of transit advocates on Monday called for even greater reform, saying any successor would have to have more independence from the governor — most notably, by giving it the power to hire and fire the agency’s general manager. Currently, that power is vested in Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack.
“The board must be empowered to take on the T’s toughest challenges and create a future system that works for all riders,” said Staci Rubin, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation.
State Representative William Straus, who oversees the House’s transportation initiatives, said he would not support that idea, arguing the governor should be fully and clearly accountable for the state of the transportation system. He added that he is not aware of any direct talks between the House and the Senate to finalize a new governing board before July 1, but expects it to happen.
“Obviously, none of us are on the schedule any of us contemplated,” he added, a reference to the coronavirus. “I think that the House and Senate remain capable of heavy lifting."