MBTA Fiscal Control Board extended another year
On July 3rd Governor Baker signed off on emergency legislation extending the five-year term of the MBTA’s Fiscal Control Board. The five-member Board was set to expire, which would have reverted management of the “T” to the transit line itself, as was the case before Baker came into office and got the legislature to completely revamp management of the deficit-encumbered system. Instead, by agreement of the House and Senate after months of unsuccessfully negotiating different versions of a new management board, the current Board will continue.
The differences going forward continue, however, as to what a successor control board will comprise. Baker wants a seven-member board, with a public safety advocate being added. Other transit activists want a daily T rider added to the Board. The Senate wants an oversight group more independent of the Governor, who now appoints the entire Board. All of which is subject to current members deciding perhaps to leave their posts, as the Board is unpaid and often meets for hours at a time.
Why all the fuss and concern about the way the MBTA is regulated? Money is the reason.
Prior to Governor Baker’s coming into office, the “T” was weighted down by anvils of debt, by antiquated budgeting, by paper-and-pen account booking, by employees’ contract rules often of frustrating irrelevance, by inventory inefficiency, broken fare collection mechanics, and skittish repair systems. The Fiscal Control Board was established to override every existing puzzle and to put in place rational budget decision making.
Governor Baker then appointed the following five to the MBTA Fiscal Control Board: Joseph “Joe” Aiello (Chair) -- partner and Director of Business Development North America at Meridiam Infrastructure where he worked since 2007. Aiello served in several capacities for 13 years with DMJM Harris prior to its acquisition by AECOM Enterprises, Inc. where he was most recently President for the firm’s global, public private partnership business. Aiello also worked at the MBTA as Assistant General Manager of Planning and Budget and Assistant Director of Construction for Special Projects and Finance. Lisa Calise -- Chief Financial Officer at Watertown-based Perkins School for the Blind, focusing on global services and education for those living with blindness and deafblindness. Before joining Perkins in 2010, Calise served the City of Boston for over a decade, most recently as the Director of Administration and Finance, and previously as Chief Financial Officer and Collector-Treasurer and Budget Director. Brian Lang -- President of UNITE HERE Local 26, Boston’s hotel and food service union. Lang has spent a total of seventeen years representing the union’s 7,000 members, starting as organizing director and eventually being elected as president in 2011. Before joining the UNITE HERE Local 26 team, Lang was already involved as a union organizer for SEIU Local 285. Steve Poftak (now the T’s General Manager) -- Poftak was Director of Research and Director of the Center for Better Government at the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research. Previously, Poftak worked at the Commonwealth’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance, where he managed the $1.3 billion capital budget, prepared the state’s quarterly cash flow reporting, and monitored non-tax revenue receipts. Monica Tibbits-Nutt -- Executive Director of the 128 Business Council where she has worked since 2010, advising communities in the 128 Corridor in transit planning and overseeing the operation of 12 shuttle routes with nearly half a million in annual ridership. Tibbits-Nutt also served as a Transportation Planning Consultant to the MBTA Advisory Board, and as Executive Director and Transportation Planner for TransitWorks, providing research evaluation for the MBTA and Secretary of Transportation. Bios are from: www.mbta.com/leadership/fmcb
Brian Shortsleeve replaced Steve Poftak when Poftak became the T’s General manager in late 2018.
The Board has done more than plan budgets. It has made decisions about every aspect of T operation : which bus routes to keep, expand, or cancel; to buy electric buses, and how many, and when to bring them into service; extension of the Silver Line and the Green Line; creation of a Red Line to Blue Line connection. As all these decisions involve the T budget, the Board gets to make them. Most importantly, all T accounts now respond to one directive. No longer is it unclear who is in charge : the legislature, the Department of transportation, the Carmens’ Union, or the bondholders of T debt.
None of these controls will now change. The Board has one more year to figure out what sort of an oversight group will succeed it. Or, should I say, the House, Senate, and Governor have one year to come to agreement on how many board members there will be, and representing which interest.
Mike Freedberg is co-founder and editor-in-chef of online news journal Here and Sphere
and was a music critic at the Boston Phoenix for 34 years. He covers local and State politics and policy debates and is an avid foodie and sangria addict. You can find him in Eastie.
You can follow Mike on Twitter - www.twitter.com/Editor_JMike