- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he was open to negotiations with legislative leaders on how best to overhaul the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, but he insisted his administration be given new tools to fix the ailing Boston-area transit system.

“We have a million riders and a system that everyone agrees has operational issues, governance issues and financial issues,” Baker said after meeting privately in his office with three commuters who described hardships they faced this winter when a series of major snowstorms crippled the MBTA.

“We want to have the ability to fix those (issues) and create the kind of system that this region and this commonwealth, and the riders and the taxpayers, deserve,” Baker said.

After a task force appointed by Baker identified “pervasive” management failures at the T, the Republican governor filed legislation in April that would give his administration more direct control of the agency while also exempting it from the constraints of a state law that restricts outsourcing of government services to the private sector.

Baker has been unable to win support from top Democrats in the Legislature for a key element of the proposed overhaul - the creation of a five-member financial control board that would oversee the agency for at least the next three years with broad powers to control spending and fares and to review labor contracts.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate Tuesday on a $38 billion state budget that includes a proposal to expand the state’s current transportation board from seven members to 11 and allow the governor’s secretary of transportation to appoint a general manager to run the MBTA. Senate Democratic leaders argue that would give Baker a direct line of control to the transit agency without adding a new layer of bureaucracy in the form of a control board.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg said he remained “personally skeptical” about the control board, citing his concern that it could blur the lines of authority between state government and the MBTA.

“We’re not disagreeing on what needs to be done, we’re discussing how to get it done,” Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, said after a weekly leadership meeting with Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Senate Republicans, who hold only six seats in the 40-member chamber, promised an effort to add the control board and other elements of the governor’s MBTA plan during floor debate, including the proposed exemption from the anti-privatization law.

“Let us not kick the can down the road,” said Sen. Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican. “Yes, it’s sunny out and it’s not snowing so everything seems to be moving along, but next (winter) will come.”

Baker stopped short of calling any part of his MBTA reform plan nonnegotiable, saying he was open to conversations with Democratic lawmakers who want to do things a “little differently.”

According to the governor’s office, Baker met Monday with David Haynes, a small business owner from Cambridge whose employees were impacted by the winter breakdowns; Diane Bryant, who takes commuter rail from Worcester to her job as a nurse at a Boston hospital; and Brendan Doyle, a consultant who rides the orange line.

The three, who were not made available to reporters after the meeting, were chosen from among the many riders who contacted the governor’s office over the winter to complain about MBTA breakdowns and worried what could happen next winter if the problems weren’t corrected, Baker said.

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