Chairman Hughes Op-Ed: Back the Baker Plan to Fix The T

BOSTON -- Today's Taunton Daily Gazette includes an op-ed from Chairman Kirsten Hughes, urging legislators to pass Governor Baker's MBTA reform package, including an exemption for the MBTA from the so-called "Pacheco Law."

Hughes: Back the Baker Plan to Fix The T
By Kirsten Hughes

This past winter, Massachusetts’s commuters saw firsthand the consequences that a mismanaged and disorganized state agency can have on our daily lives. The collapse of the MBTA has led to a renewed sense of urgency around reforming our transit system for the 21st century.

This is exactly why voters elected Gov. Charlie Baker and sent more Republicans to the Legislature last fall. Innovative, cost-effective reforms are needed to fix this broken agency, and the GOP team is up to the task.

Baker’s plan, introduced by Republicans in the Legislature, brings serious and meaningful reforms to deliver the transit system that the commonwealth deserves. The Senate and House have acted to deliver on key elements of the plan, most notably a fiscal management and control board to help fix the agency’s budgetary mess.

The governor’s plan also calls for the MBTA to be exempt from the so-called Pacheco Law, a union and special interest protection measure passed back in 1993. The law named for Taunton’s state senator sets needless and onerous restrictions on state agencies trying to collaborate with the private sector to deliver cost-effective, innovative reforms. The law is so restrictive, the guide to enforcing it runs more than 20 pages long.

Supporters of the Pacheco Law make the claim that it doesn’t really stifle innovation. Auditor Suzanne Bump — the final arbiter of privatization requests under the Pacheco Law — said recently, “Since the law’s passage, 12 of the 15 privatization plans reviewed by the state auditor have been approved.”

Let’s think about that number for a moment: the Pacheco Law is so onerous that over 22 years, only 15 proposals to save taxpayer money even made it to the Auditor’s office. How many more have been stifled by the stranglehold of regulations imposed by this backwards law? Clearly, taxpayers are getting a raw deal with the status quo.

We know that this exemption can help the MBTA save money and get the job done. In 2012, the agency estimated that upgrades to 190 buses would cost 50 percent more if the MBTA did them in-house, compared to sending the buses on flat-bed trucks to a private facility for repairs. These constraints quite simply hurt the MBTA’s ability to do its job. We can do better, and we need to do better.

Without meaningful reform, in just a few short months, we could be right back where we were this past winter. On the SouthCoast, and all over the commonwealth, working families rely on the commuter rail and MBTA for their livelihoods every day. Massachusetts’s commuters can’t afford anti-reform efforts that will just preserve the status quo.

The Legislature has a choice: either stand with the riding public and pass all of Baker’s plan for a sustainable and reliable MBTA; or dig in with their special interest allies and block progress. Massachusetts commuters can’t afford for them to make the wrong choice.

Click here to see the full op-ed.