Senate Budget Week; MBTA Bailout

Senate budget debate starts tomorrow, and our researchers are getting a good picture of what sorts of amendments the upper chamber will be discussing.

Most interesting among them may be an amendment aimed at thwarting further reforms via privatization at the MBTA. The short passage reads like mumbo-jumbo. In essence, the amendment puts more road blocks in place of privatization as the clock is running out on the moratorium of the anti-privatization law. The suspension of the Pacheco law has meant big savings for T riders and taxpayers, and nothing makes the Union Bosses more red in the face than better service at a lower cost. 

A timely amendment offered by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) would create an 11-member commission to examine the state of the MBTA pension fund. Just today, according to The Globe, Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s acting general manager informed the Fiscal Control Board the MBTA pension fund needs $1 billion or it'll go bust in less than 20 years. Things are upside down at the Transit Authority, with 5,786 employees and 6,685 pensioneers. Something has got to give there, and while we're not generally fans of Study Committees, Tarr's amendment might just start an overdue conversation about stopping that runaway train before it's too late. 

Tarr also put in for amendments establishing a MassHealth Cost Containment Council and investigating waivers from the Affordable Care Act. Both attempt to cut down our out-of-control MassHealth spending.
There were a few other glimmers of good in the pile of amendments, including allowing short-term rentals a pass on the impending AirBnB tax; establishing a sales tax holiday; and prohibiting the purchase of marijuana with state welfare grants (EBT cards).

And of course, a few last-minute requests for nickel-and-dime pork turned up. Among them: a study of needed improvements to Westwood's town hall, $100,000. Another $88K for a ceremonial militia, $75K for a regatta, and almost $325K for the Division of Ecological Restoration. And another $300K for climate change preparedness.

Everybody agrees these small requests for local project money is bad business. Still, you can't expect the Legislature to give them up cold turkey, even in the face of a growing budget deficit.

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