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MBTA board would stay in place another year under Beacon Hill deal

The five members of the MBTA’s board of directors said goodbye and even read a letter of advice to their successors at their final scheduled meeting Monday, after five years of emergency oversight.

That farewell, it turns out, may have been premature.

House and Senate negotiators agreed to a one-year extension of the board’s term, with the Senate giving it approval Thursday afternoon. If the House finalizes the deal and Governor Charlie Baker signs the legislation, the board will stay in place until next summer.

The move is essentially a punt after the House and Senate had each proposed different visions for future T governance. Neither side wanted the agency to go without dedicated oversight and without some change in law, the T would have been taken over by the larger Massachusetts Department of Transportation board. That board meets less frequently than the T’s board and also has to manage state highways and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

“Obviously time was getting short,” said state Senator Joseph Boncore, who leads the chamber’s transportation initiatives. “At this point, we just decided time was of the essence to get this done.”

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The House had proposed a longer extension for the existing board and would have added two seats representing municipal government. The Senate sought to create a new board entirely and give it more power. It, too, would have reserved seats for local government — a priority of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who says the city should have more say about the T.

Boncore said the two sides will continue to debate the best way forward in the coming months before the new term expires.

House and Senate leaders had said as far back as 2018 that they were aware of the dwindling timeline for the MBTA board and that they would act quickly. But their temporary extension was finalized just five days before the end of the board’s term.

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Baker had pushed for a new board as well, one that had a seat for municipal governance and one seat dedicated to a transit safety expert. The Baker administration said it would review the legislation.

While the current board structure would remain in place, it is unclear how many of its members are willing to stick around for the unpaid roles. At least one seat would need to be filled: Brian Shortsleeve, a former MBTA general manager who assumed a board seat in 2017, said he will depart so he can focus on his day job, running a venture capital fund.

Another board member, Brian Lang, a longtime service sector labor leader, declined to say whether he would continue to serve.

“My only reaction to it is, if the Senate and House couldn’t come to an agreement on what the new board should be, then I think it’s a smart move on their part, because it gives them more time to try and work it out,” Lang said. “And it allows the T ... continuity, which is important during this time of the pandemic and the challenges that are before the T.”

The board’s other three members — chairman Joseph Aiello, vice chair Monica Tibbits-Nutt, and Chrystal Kornegay, the executive director of MassHousing — could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

The control board was created in 2015, following the massively disruptive winter storms that year. It has focused on keeping the T’s finances in order while boosting repair and modernization spending and charting future plans for improvements to the bus and commuter rail systems; to many riders’ chagrin, it has also raised fares twice.

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