BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Senate has rejected a plan to replace the MBTA's governing board with a five-member control board that would oversee the finances of the ailing transit system for at least the next three years.
The plan was offered Tuesday as an amendment to a T bailout bill.
The proposal by three Republicans and two Democrats from western Massachusetts envisioned creating the new control board to replace the MBTA's current board of directors with all the powers of the current board.
The control board would consist of the state secretary of transportation, the current chair of the MBTA board and three other members, two of whom would live outside of the T's service area.
The House-passed bailout offers state help to the MBTA to stave off deeper service cuts.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
A group of state senators on Tuesday proposed creating a five-member control board to oversee the finances of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority that would replace the ailing transit system's current board of directors for at least the next three years.
The plan was being offered as an amendment to an MBTA bailout bill that is scheduled to be debated in the Senate. Sponsors of the amendment included minority leader Bruce Tarr, two other Republican lawmakers and two Democrats who represent western Massachusetts districts outside of the T's service area: Sen. James Welch of West Springfield and Sen. Gale Candaras of Wilbraham.
The lawmakers said the proposed control board would be responsible for creating and implementing a long-term plan for financial stability while maintaining quality service and affordability. They said the panel would have all the powers of the T's current board - including fare-setting responsibility - and would be modeled after a control board that oversaw the finances of Springfield from 2004-2009 after the city teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.
"The existing MBTA board has worked very hard to try to find fiscal stability and sustainability for the MBTA, but that has eluded them," Candaras said at a news conference, acknowledging the amendment faced an uphill fight in the Senate. "We believe they have exhausted the subject and they are overwhelmed by the Herculean problems that confront them."
The bailout bill, which has been approved in the House, would provide state help to the MBTA to close a remaining deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 and stave off deeper cuts in service. The T's board, originally faced with a $159 million deficit, voted earlier to raise fares an average 23 percent and reduce some service, which officials estimate would reduce the deficit by about two-thirds.
The bill calls for the state to transfer to the MBTA about $50 million from a state fund made of up motor vehicle inspection fees.
"Something has to change," said Tarr. "That kind of scavenging through the state budget is not the way to operate public transportation."
The senators said it was the third time in the last decade the T has sought a bailout. Since 2000, the T has received 20 percent of statewide sales tax revenues.
State officials and lawmakers agree the bill would only provide a one-year fix for the T's financial woes and that long-term solutions were needed.
The proposed control board would include the state secretary of transportation and the MBTA's current board chairman. The three other members would be chosen by the attorney general, the inspector general, and the secretary of administration and finance, with two of those three board members required to be individuals who live outside of the T's service area.
An earlier draft of the amendment called for all three of the other members to live outside the service area.
It was not immediately clear if the senators' proposal would be able to win support from the Senate leadership or members from more heavily-populated districts where constituents rely heavily on the T's buses, subways and commuter trains.
"I don't know if our colleagues are ready to take this step, but we will try to convince them," Candaras said.