Boston- Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) announces that the Massachusetts Senate yesterday passed, by a vote of 39 to 1, comprehensive transportation reform legislation that consolidates multiple agencies into an independent authority and eliminates the MBTA’s “23 and out” retirement policy.
“These reforms are important, they are long overdue, and they will save western Mass. taxpayers significantly,” said Downing. “Reforming our transportation agencies and system is essential to ensuring we put Massachusetts on a path to economic recovery.”
The Senate bill eliminates the Turnpike Authority, streamlines communications, and creates a more efficient and cost-effective system under a unifying agency called the Massachusetts Surface Transportation Authority (MSTA), potentially saving the Commonwealth up to $6.5 billion over 20 years.
The MSTA sheds the many layers of bureaucracy in the current system by consolidating and sharing existing resources and services. In the first two years of the Senate reform plan, the new system will see a surplus of $71.7 million in year one and $25.5 million in year two, based on reforms alone with no additional revenues attached.
Under the new Authority, the current system is reduced to two divisions: Roads and Bridges; and Public Transit.
The Roads and Bridges Division assumes the duties of MassHighway, the Turnpike Authority, the Tobin Bridge, and Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) parkways and bridges; while the Public Transit Division assumes the duties of the MBTA and provides the Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) with central oversight and funding through the new Authority.
Transition to the MSTA will phase in over a three-year period, consolidating the Western Turnpike, MassHighway and DCR parkways and bridges by July 1, 2009; the Metropolitan Highway System, the Tobin Bridge and the RTAs by July 1, 2010; and the MBTA by July 1, 2011.
The Senate bill aligns the new Authority’s retirement policy with the state retirement system, eliminating the MBTA’s “23 and out” and implementing “55 and 25.” It also requires that the cost of the MBTA health care benefits will be no greater than those provided under the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Employees will be required to participate in the GIC only if an actuarial study shows it to be more cost effective.
The legislation also includes significant transparency and accountability measures, including:
- A special audit unit within MSTA to root out fraud, waste and abuse in Authority spending. The unit is authorized to refer matters to the state inspector general for further investigations;
- Improved fiscal scrutiny for major capital expansion projects (those with projected construction costs greater than $25 million) by requiring a written finding that sufficient revenues will exist to operate the project;
- Use of the state fiscal year and the state’s accounting system;
- A ban on former employees from lobbying the Authority for one year;
- Restrictions on the use of outside consultants;
- Mandatory reporting requirements to the Legislature; and
- A requirement that employee salaries are counted as operating expenses, thereby ending the Commonwealth’s practice of paying salaries from bond proceeds.
Massport is left untouched under the Senate restructuring bill and remains independent of the MSTA because it is not a surface transportation agency and is responsible for, and specializes in, aviation and the Port of Boston. Additionally, it does not use state money for its operations.
The bill now goes to the House for further action.