Rosenberg sees transportation disconnect

Commonwealth Magazine | By BRUCE MOHL | Feb 17, 2015

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said on Tuesday that the problems at the MBTA are straight out of “Democracy in America,” the book Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the 1800s which suggested that Americans may vote themselves more benefits than they are willing to pay for.

“This is de Tocqueville writ large,” Rosenberg said in a meeting with reporters at his State House office. “That’s the America we live in. We want excellent public services. We expect our government to work efficiently and effectively, but at the same time we’re not willing to invest the resources where needed.”

With his remarks, Rosenberg staked out a different position from the two other members of the Big Three on Beacon Hill. House Speaker Robert DeLeo is promising reforms and personnel changes but pledging no new revenues for the T. Gov. Charlie Baker is opposed to raising taxes, but wants to put off the discussion of long-term solutions to the MBTA’s problems until the current crisis eases.

Baker and MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott seem to be working better together. After sniping at each other last week, the two officials on Tuesday sounded as if they now are on the same team. Scott praised Baker for delivering state resources to help the T dig out, especially a personal call the governor made to Peter Pan Bus Lines, which resulted in 42 buses to ferry passengers along the shutdown Red Line between Braintree and JFK/UMass.

Baker said administration and T officials are now meeting twice a day at MBTA headquarters to coordinate their efforts. He said T officials would be more forthcoming about service in the coming days and weeks, a promise that was quickly followed by a somewhat chaotic briefing call by T officials with reporters.

But there are still clearly some kinks in the Scott-Baker relationship. Scott on Monday night said it might take 30 days before full T service is restored. Baker said on Tuesday that he hadn’t been told about the 30-day forecast before Scott made it. “I think we need to be faster than that, but I don’t want anybody overpromising and under-delivering here,” he said. Scott seem to back away from the 30-day estimate late Tuesday, saying she hopes to restore full service as quickly as possible. “It’s like a war and we’re taking this back station by station, line by line,” she said.

Scott said the cash-strapped T was even giving some consideration to issuing refunds to passengers who have been left stranded by the transit agency. “It’s something we’re mulling over,” she said.

While Baker and Scott struggle with the here and now, Rosenberg sat down with reporters in his office to talk about his effort to change legislative rules to give the Senate more control over bills filed by senators and a new initiative to promote welfare-to-work programs. Reporters, however, wanted to know where he stood on the MBTA’s problems and what should be done about them.

The Senate president said an extraordinarily tough winter and a “history of neglect” have created the current crisis. He said once winter ebbs, the system should return to what it was before, which he described as “basically functional.” While he favored greater state investment in transportation infrastructure, Rosenberg acknowledged Massachusetts residents may not be convinced yet.

“People don’t want to pay higher fares. People don’t want to pay higher taxes,” he said. “People want more trains to run more frequently, faster, and more reliably. That is an equation, that any scientist will tell you, that adds up to a big problem.”

Asked if state officials were still grappling with the “reform before revenue” phrase that stalled the push for new transportation revenues in 2009, Rosenberg said: “Always, that’s what the public wants.”

Rosenberg said T management is a problem. “I feel that the system that we put in place, that was supposed to transfer to more modern practices, was not adequately executed. So part of it is management, and part of it is underfunding,” he said.

The Senate president said deferred maintenance is a constant problem in government. State workers don’t get credit for maintaining the facilities or services they provide, only for the new buildings or stations they open.

“The unending appetite to expand public transit, for good reason, basically has resulted in us building as system that is inadequately supported both for its size and its age. And there’s significant demand for more,” he said, specifically mentioning commuter rail and rail to western Massachusetts, the area of the state that he represents.

Rosenberg tied the debate over transportation funding into concerns about income inequality in Massachusetts and across the country. He said 80 percent of people today have incomes that are stagnant, dropping, or below the poverty line, while the vast majority of wealth is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small cross-section of the population. He said those eking out a living are not interested in putting money into transportation infrastructure or other government initiatives.

“That paradigm has to be shifted,” he said. “That paradigm is what’s paralyzing us.”

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    • j cat on February 21, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    The Clinton Foundation builds partnerships of great purpose between businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals to work faster, better, and leaner; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow.

    The MBTA should get the Clintons to fix the problems.

    • j cat on February 21, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    No such thing as short term taxes. WE continue to pay more in taxes every year. new taxes like sales 5 to now 6.25 then tack on local sales tax.
    property taxes increasing to the max every year. I believe this is why Baker got elected . his opponent she refused to say NO NEW TAXES…So she lost.

    then you have the RMV , more fee increases. It continues until we are the slaves of the state.

    How about less management .. It is bloated ,wasteful. Keeping management that have the qualifications to understand the systems operating complexity.

    Buying cheap crappy vehicle’s then we get blamed for the crappy equipment.

    Lets face it the MBTA has wasted billions on using duct tape to patch up all the mess. Also political corruption .
    It is not the unions job to run the system. the unions job is to enforce the contract.
    However the union should work with the governors office to point out how to help reduce waste and costs. …

    • Allen J White Sr on February 18, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    The problem is Politics as usual. Any fool can look at the system and see
    it needs updating. The question becomes how we pay for the New System.
    Tax increases affect families in low income classes. A short term increase
    in state gas taxes seems do able. It’s one off many suggestions that most would turn a deaf ear too. I will say this 589 needs to stand for something real. The future of our transit system is our beard and butter.

    It’s time we bring people to our table. Lets be the driving force behind this

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