Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack on Tuesday defended the Baker administration’s proposal to overhaul the beleaguered MBTA, arguing that opponents of a new oversight board are afraid of what its members might find.
Governor Charlie Baker this month proposed legislation based on the findings of a panel he appointed to look into the T’s troubles. Since then, some have questioned several of the panel’s important data, and whether a new “fiscal and management control board” is necessary to fix the agency.
During a Suffolk University event held to discuss remedies for the T, Pollack brushed such concerns aside. She suggested that the pushback on the new board comes from people who don’t want to face the real problems that could emerge.
“If they’re not true, why is everyone afraid of the fiscal control board?” said Pollack. “The fiscal control board will dig into the numbers, and if it turns out that capital spending is great and absenteeism is great, then they can declare victory and go home.”
The report from the governor’s panel was highly critical of the finances and management of the agency, which faltered during the winter snowstorms. For example, the panel presented figures showing the average T worker was absent for 57 days each year, and blamed unscheduled absences for most canceled bus trips.
Lawmakers have asked the administration to release its data and provide more clarity on the findings. On Tuesday, Pollack stood by the numbers.
“I categorically reject the charges that the panel’s numbers were not true,” she said.
She said the administration is developing a list of frequently asked questions on the report.
At the Suffolk event, Pollack made a vigorous pitch for the control board proposed by Baker, which was modeled after a control board created for the city of Springfield.
The “fiscal and management control” board for the MBTA would take away oversight of the T from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board for three to five years. Pollack said the control board was necessary to give the governor the tools to fix the T. The new control board, for example, would need to approve settlements from an arbitrator over labor disputes.
But during the panel discussion, Jim Aloisi, a former transportation secretary, said more investment is needed instead of a control board. He also took issue with Pollack’s comments about critics of the legislation.
“No one’s saying the T’s perfect, and no one’s saying the T shouldn’t be challenged to get strong performance metrics,” he said. “But the control board sends all the wrong messages.”Nicole Dungca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.