In letter to lawmakers, Baker warns 'marginal' changes won't do much to improve transit agency

Industrials Associated Press

Facing opposition from key Senate Democrats, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker again appealed to the Legislature to support key elements of his proposed overhaul of the struggling Boston-area transit system, warning that "marginal changes" would do little to improve it.

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In a letter to House and Senate members released by the administration Friday, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urged lawmakers to embrace his call for a financial control board to oversee the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority for the next three to five years, and other reforms including an exemption for the T from the restraints of the state's anti-privatization law.

Baker filed his plan last month following recommendations from a task force that found a "pervasive organizational failure" of the agency. The governor asked for the review after massive breakdowns on the transit system during a winter of record-setting snow.

"This past winter, the MBTA failed a stress test. But the problems that contributed to its collapse were not new, and were not caused by the winter weather," Baker wrote in the letter to legislators.

"Taken alone, marginal changes to the oversight of the current MBTA organization will produce little or no meaningful improvement for the riders and employees of the MBTA, and will all but ensure that the MBTA continues to struggle to meet its basic mission of providing reliable public transit service for the people of Massachusetts," he added.

The remarks echoed testimony Baker gave Monday to the Legislature's Transportation Committee at a public hearing on his bill.

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The Senate is scheduled to take up a state budget proposal next week that includes Baker's call to replace the current seven-member state transportation board with an 11-member board chaired by the governor's transportation secretary. But Senate leaders balked at creating a separate control board, with key Democrats including Sen. Thomas McGee, chairman of the Transportation Committee, arguing that it would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and that Baker already has the tools required to address the T's problems.

At least one Democratic senator, William Brownsberger of Belmont, has announced he would back the control board and an exemption for the T from the law.

Baker has declined to speculate on whether he would consider signing legislation that did not include the changes.