MBTA workers surveyed the scene of a Red Line derailment on June 11, 2019 at the JFK/UMass station. Repairing damage from the incident snarled subway service for months afterwards and led to a scathing independent audit of the T’s safety practices. State House News Service Photo | Chris Lisinski

With less than a month to go before the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board expires, the House and Senate can’t agree on the body that will replace it.

Transportation experts, advocates and business groups all agree the agency needs a dedicated oversight board following the current one’s success since it was created after the disastrous winter of 2015. While proposals from the two legislative bodies are similar, they differ on who would have the authority to hire and fire the agency’s general manager.

The Senate approved a bill Thursday that creates a brand-new MBTA Board of Directors with seven members, up from the current five, including the secretary of transportation and someone chosen by the MBTA Advisory Board group that represents cities and towns within the T’s service area.

In March, the House approved a transportation tax bill with language that would extend the FMCB by three to five years and would also add two seats, one for the city of Boston and another for a different municipality.

Sen. Joseph Boncore, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said during Thursday’s Senate session that the bill is “a first step.”

“Prior to this pandemic, our transportation system was in desperate need of investment, modernization and reform,” he said. “Now, the global pandemic and the cause for civil rights have only underscored the need to improve transportation.”

All four amendments to the legislation, including one from Boston Sen. Nick Collins that would have given the city a designated seat on the board, were withdrawn without any discussion. The Senate passed the bill following introductory in-person remarks from Boncore and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr.

Legislative leaders have also not outlined plans to settle their policy and procedural differences on road funding and the T board, but they have a narrow window in which to do so if they want to outline the future of MBTA oversight before the existing Fiscal and Management Control Board expires on June 30.

If no successor or extension is in place, control would revert to the Department of Transportation Board of Directors, a step that Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore said this week would have “huge” impacts.

Baker and the legislature created the FMCB in the wake of the disastrous winter of 2015 that brought repeated shutdowns on the T, empowering it to reform what many critics deemed a bloated, inefficient and indebted agency. He then extended the board another two years in 2018, but it will expire at the end of the month and another extension is not possible without legislation.

In his fiscal 2021 budget proposal, Baker also proposed creating a new seven-member board including the transportation secretary and an MBTA Advisory Board appointee, though his board would oversee both the MBTA and the Department of Transportation.

The Senate bill would empower the new board to hire the T’s general manager, a responsibility that currently rests with the transportation secretary. The House bill did not include that provision.

Asked about that language during an unrelated Thursday press conference, Baker said he believes the governor should maintain a role in appointing the MBTA’s top leader. He also said one of the key funding mechanisms for the T is dedicated revenue from the state’s sales tax, which means many Massachusetts residents effectively pay into a system they do not use.

“The executive branch, the administration, me, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of transportation — (we) own a big piece of the accountability for what happens there, and that translates into a far more transparent agency that I believe is a lot more accountable to the public,” Baker said. “Going forward, the more accountable that the T can be and the operation and leadership of the T can be to the executive branch and, by definition, to the governor and lieutenant governor, the better off we’re all going to be.”

House, Senate at Odds Over MBTA Board as Deadline Looms

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min
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