Yesterday, the Massachusetts legislature did a great disservice to working families, T riders, and taxpayers across the Commonwealth with the suspension of the Taxpayer Protection Act (or Pacheco Law) for the next three years.
The goal of the Taxpayer Protection Act (or Pacheco Law) was to protect the Commonwealth from the waste, fraud, and abuse that routinely took place because of an unchecked privatization scheme implemented at the expense of taxpayers. It was passed in response to the Weld administration’s use of a privatization, which rewarded relationships over fiscal responsibility in the issuing of contracts. Now the public and taxpayers will be kept in the dark about the cost and quality of services provided, and there will be no one to hold contractors accountable.
As Larry Hanley, International ATU president, said, “the selling point of these ‘incredibly open and honest’ private transit companies is to provide savings by paying workers less, eliminating pensions, and offering fewer benefits. This is about taking an experienced professional workforce and turning it into a part-time job, not appropriate for a safety-sensitive industry where employees are driving massive vehicles and entrusted with the lives of millions of passengers each day.”
Not to mention the law did not make privatization impossible. According to Mass. State Auditor Suzanne Bump, since its passage in 1993, 12 of the 15 privatization plans reviewed by the state auditor were approved, and of the three that weren’t approved two had been advanced by the MBTA. “The Pacheco Law forces government agencies, unaccustomed to thinking like businesses, to explore alternatives to their current model and base decisions on costs, desired outcomes, competitive bidding, and value,” said Bump.
Only a few legislators had the courage to stand up for what was right. They include State Rep. Michael Brady of Brockton who was the lone House member to vote against the budget bill containing the repeal. As Brady said, “I’m against suspending the rights of workers for three years,” In the Senate, it was Senators Marc Pacheco of Taunton, Thomas McGee of Lynn, Dan Wolf of Harwich, Jamie Eldridge of Acton, and Ken Donnelly of Arlington.
Although Local 589 ran an aggressive media and ground campaign, various Koch-funded think tanks and pro-business entities spent an untold amount of time and money on a coordinated and far-reaching disinformation campaign. The Pioneer Institute was the most egregious with a T maintenance study that was questioned by various newspapers and transportation experts for its cherry-picked data. The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation also used deceptive claims and polls that were discounted by newspapers and experts.
The most unfortunate thing is the debate never focused on the real issues. Numerous reports and experts (Jim Aloisi, David D’Alessandro, Rick Dimino of A Better City, etc.) agreed that the T needs a sustainable funding formula along with taking the BIG DIG DEBT off the MBTA’s books. However, the forces trying to repeal the Pacheco Law have been working to overturn it for a long time, and with two unprecedented, back-to-back snowstorms, they saw their opportunity.
Asked shortly after the vote took place about the impact of the repeal, Local 589 President Jimmy O’Brien said, “the taxpayers are going to be the ultimate ones that are going to be paying for this. The Taxpayer Protection Act was a checks and balance on the dangers of unbridled privatization where profit is paramount. This law brought transparency and accountability to the process.”
Make no mistake this is far from over; however, we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our members who made phone calls, reached out to their legislators, attended rallies, and advocated for the Taxpayer Protection Act (or Pacheco Law). This is a wakeup call because the forces of inequality and union busting are organized and fighting hard. We need to rise to the occasion by improving our organizational and advocacy capabilities as well as our coalition building. We may have lost this battle, but the war is ours to win and the stakes could not be higher.
Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589