Wednesday, July 8, 2015

State Budget Reflects Senate Republican Caucus Policy Initiatives

MBTA Reform, Olympic Games Spending Freeze & Insurance Surcharge

Boston-   Key policy reforms initiated by the Senate Republican Caucus are contained in the Fiscal Year 2016 annual state budget now moving to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk.
Major reform elements included in the final version of the budget are expected to produce a sweeping overhaul of the troubled MBTA.  In February, as winter storms continued to expose management and maintenance gaps, members of the Senate Republican caucus filed legislation to move the failing agency under the auspices of a Fiscal Control and Management Board, a change which would create a stronger line of accountability to Governor Charlie Baker.  The Senate, in May, ultimately unanimously approved the reform plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). Bi-partisan support, following collaboration with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tom McGee, grew into a unanimous vote of the Senate.

“For far too long, the management at the T allowed the system to fail, a grave disservice to their riders, taxpayers, and our economy.  By adopting the amendment with bi-partisan support, the Senate created momentum to the idea of giving Governor Baker the tools he needs to begin to end the hardship that the T has generated, pursue greater efficiencies, and restore faith with those who pay the bills,” said Senator Tarr.
Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), the Senate Republican member of the budget negotiating committee added, “We were honored to share what we believe is a common sense approach to governing. We lived within our fiscal means, we tackled challenging issues by giving the Administration the tools necessary to govern effectively and we address the most significant challenges that we as a Commonwealth face.”
Components of the MBTA control board include:
  • Securing financial and performance stability of the MBTA;
  • Implementing uniform budget and planning guidelines and procedures for all departments;
  • MBTA fare protections for riders;
  • Inspector General required to review service and procurement contracts;
  • Executing capital budgets and borrowing authorizations to finance or refinance any debt;
  • Maintaining authority to appoint, remove, supervise, and control all MBTA employees and personnel matters;
  • Developing a long range plan for MBTA financial and structural sustainability; and
  • Accountability measures including requiring the filing of a quarterly report to the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means detailing revenues and expenses.
In addition to the control board, the final budget includes targeted relief from an anti-privatization law that has obstructed savings and reform.  A temporary suspension of the so-called Pacheco law is expected to provide the MBTA with project and maintenance savings and greater program efficiencies otherwise not available. Independent budget and policy experts have suggested that the Pacheco law has resulted in added costs of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“I am happy to see that the Conference Committee included the significant MBTA reform advocated for by Senate Republican Caucus in our final budget proposal. The eleven cities and towns I represent in the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District will benefit greatly from the establishment of the control board and contract oversight by the Inspector General,” said Donald Humason (R-Westfield). “Assuring that cost reducing measures and contract  evaluations are performed will help to put an end to what has been years of wasteful spending that impacts residents across the Commonwealth—including Western Massachusetts.”
Senate Minority Leader Tarr also successfully advocated for the inclusion of legislation he authored to assure that no state agency or department spends any state funds connected to the 2024 Olympic Games in Boston unless a special act of the Legislature is signed into law by Governor Baker.
“Inclusion of our amendment ensures that the Legislature and Governor, as responsible stewards of the Commonwealth’s resources, are putting taxpayer’s interests and needs first,” said Tarr.
The conference committee included the legislation, which received support from a bi-partisan group of Senate co-sponsors, to provide greater oversight on the use of state money as the International Olympic Committee considers which city will be awarded the games. Under the plan, money can only be spent for due diligence and analysis of Boston 2024 organizer’s plans.

“This final budget represents a victory for not only Senate Republicans and the Baker Administration; it is a victory for the people of Massachusetts. Major reforms and taxpayer protections, from the Pacheco law freeze at the MBTA to the continuance of the income tax reduction to 5%, were included as well as my local priorities for the towns I represent. I’m proud to vote for the budget,” said Ryan Fattman, (R Webster).
Tarr also received support by the committee when it accepted his plan to shield motorists from costly insurance surcharges for failing to use headlights when foul weather requires they turn their windshield wipers on.  Under the Tarr proposal, the $5 moving violation will no longer trigger a six year auto insurance surcharge currently included in state law. 

“Our goal is to enhance public safety.  We shouldn’t be penalizing drivers by spiking their car insurance bill year after year,” said Tarr.  “The Senate Republican Caucus took action in the Senate version of the budget to strike the new law and restore commons sense; the motoring public needs to know that our members are on their side.”

“The budget proposal put forward here today is reflective of not just the priorities of the Senate, but the priorities of the people of the Commonwealth,” said Senator Ross (R-Wrentham). “I am proud of the hard work of this body in crafting a budget that implements necessary reforms, invests in essential programs, and puts our hardworking taxpayers first.”

The conference committee did not include the Senate backed freeze of the Income Tax rate nor a tax increase on flavored tobacco.  Following expected approval by the full House and Senate, the budget will next go to the desk of Governor Charlie Baker for his approval.