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Senate wary of exempting MBTA from anti-privatization law

April 16, 2015

BOSTON (AP) — A push to exempt the MBTA from the state’s anti-privatization law is meeting with skepticism from top Senate lawmakers who say they aren’t convinced the law has contributed to the transit system’s troubles.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg said Thursday that the law has become a political lightning rod, but he said any decision to exempt the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority from the law should be driven by data, not ideology.

The House Ways and Means Committee included a five-year reprieve for the MBTA from the so-called Pacheco Law in its proposed state budget. A special MBTA review panel named by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has also called for relief from the law.

Rosenberg said he hasn’t seen any reports showing how often the T has tried to use the law, which restricts the ability of government agencies to enter into private contracts for services that were previously provided by public employees.

Rosenberg said it’s still not clear that the Pacheco Law — named after its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton — is at the root of the MBTA’s financial woes.

“The Pacheco Law is really a political target and it’s been for years and so there’s an ideological/political component,” Rosenberg said. “We ought to be driving policy based on outcomes and data and how things actually work, and what makes sense.”

Rosenberg said 80 percent of all proposals for privatization of public services since the Pacheco Law was put into place were approved and implemented. He cited Pacheco as his source.

Baker told the Associated Press he would file legislation next week based on the recommendations of the special MBTA panel. He did not say what specifically would be in the bill but is expected to call for creation of a financial control board to oversee the T.

Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, also said he wasn’t convinced the Pacheco Law is a problem. “The basis of the Pacheco Law is if the work is being done currently at a savings to the commonwealth then it isn’t outsourced.”

House leaders, however, said the MBTA’s struggles to continue operating during the winter’s unprecedented snowfalls is reason enough to look for a range of solutions, including giving the agency greater privatization options.

“What we saw demonstrated over the course of the winter months cries out for a change in the status quo,” House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said Wednesday as he unveiled the House’s budget proposal.

McGee said lawmakers have taken several steps over the past few years to help stabilize the MBTA, from overhauling its pension system to forcing MBTA employees and retirees into the state’s group insurance program to save on health care costs.

At the end of the day, McGee said, any long-term fix for the T is going to require more money.

“We have never given enough dollars to the transportation system to allow it to do what we expect it to do.” McGee said.

McGee sounded less enthusiastic about hiking fares, noting that subway, bus system and commuter rail fares increased by 5 percent just last year.

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