Senate transpo chair unsure of route for revenues

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 14, 2015…..Lambasted by the governor over his dismissal of MBTA reform proposals, Senate Transportation Chairman Tom McGee has said additional revenue is needed but he has not outlined any plans to increase funding.

In comments to the News Service on Thursday, McGee reiterated that the governor’s transportation reform bill is still in committee and another hearing is planned. The House made some organizational changes for state transportation in its budget and the Senate is poised to follow suit.

Both legislative branches are so far aligned in their plans to expand the membership of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors, which oversees nearly all transportation in the state and place Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack as chairwoman.

Reacting Wednesday to McGee’s rejection of a number of other proposals, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “I’m hopeful that the Senate recognizes that the MBTA is an organization in significant stress and that in the end the Senate is not going to try to pretend saying the word reform a lot without actually doing any reform is going to give our administration or anybody else the tools that they need and that we need to truly fix the T.”

On Thursday McGee claimed that a general manager could accomplish everything the Baker administration wants with a fiscal and management control board except increase fares beyond the statutory cap.

“The general manager could do all of those things today. And the one thing that the general manager wouldn’t be able to do is raise fares,” McGee said. He called the proposed control board a “bureaucratic barrier.”

The control board proposed by Baker would also be able to reject an arbitrator’s union contract award. Asked whether that same authority would be granted the transportation board that now oversees the T, McGee said, “The rest of the legislation is still in committee.”

The Lynn Democrat said last winter’s abnormal snow that sidelined much of the MBTA’s rail service would have hampered any transit agency, and he said privatized T service worked worse than the service staffed by public employees.

“The one entity that probably had the worst performance of all was the commuter rail, which is a private operation,” McGee said. The governor and the House are both on record supporting lifting procedures required before the privatization of MBTA services, while Senate Democrats have rejected attempts to undermine the law, which is named after Sen. Marc Pacheco.

The tracks, facilities and trains that carry commuter rail passengers are all owned by the state, which is responsible for capital repairs, but the service is operated by Keolis Commuter Services, a contractor, which handles maintenance of vehicles and infrastructure.

McGee said there was a “major lack of investment” in the commuter rail. He said, “When we talk about reform, we’re talking about reform and revenue.”

Asked when the Senate would propose increasing revenues for the MBTA, McGee said, “The bill is still in committee. I talked to Chairman Straus. We’re going to have other hearings related to the legislation.”

Legislation increasing taxes must originate in the House, where Speaker Robert DeLeo has said this year’s budget would be balanced without any increases in taxes and where House Majority Leader Ron Mariano said giving additional money to the T before it demonstrates it would be spent well would be “kind of crazy.”

House members outnumber the Senate on joint committees, such as Transportation where Rep. William Straus is McGee’s co-chairman.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has interpreted the annual budget bill as qualifying for change to tax policy, which DeLeo disputes.

McGee said he is not ready to say what piece of legislation might be used to attempt to increase revenues for the T.

“We have a bill in committee. We’ve talked about reform. The panel’s report talked about reform and revenue. We need to have an ongoing discussion about that. I’m not ready to say what that would be or what vehicle we would use or not,” McGee said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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