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The T pays consultants up to $610 an hour – find out how to save money

The Boston Globe

The MBTA pays Ernst & Young consultants up to $610 an hour to conduct research for Gov. Maura Healey’s transportation finance task force. MassDOT says it will reimburse MBTA for the $450,000 contract. MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

If you have $600 million in your pocket and have a persistent problem with budgeting, how do you solve your money problems?

If you’re Gov. Maura Healey’s new transportation task force, you hire a team of consultants who charge up to $610 an hour.

Facing a $628 million budget shortfall for its next fiscal year, the MBTA signed a $450,000 contract in April with consulting firm Ernst & Young to study how transportation is and could be financed in the Massachusetts, as well as how other states and countries do it.

The hourly rate for the nine consultants ranges from $244 to $610.

The contract is one of the first initiatives overseen by a new task force appointed by Healey to address some of the state’s long-standing transportation problems. Consultants will prepare the Massachusetts Sustainable Transportation Financing Task Force’s final report by December. according to the contract.

But a few Task force members expressed concern about the reliance on expensive consultants, whose firms are often hired by state agencies to do all kinds of government-related work.

“The last thing Massachusetts needs is another report written by a consultant,” said Brian Kane, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Council. “What we need is political action.”

State transportation agency MassDOT spokeswoman Amelia Aubourg said the new contract is a complement to the existing one between the consulting firm and the MBTA, and that MassDOT will reimburse the T.

“We value thought leadership and wanted to explore what’s happening across the national landscape when it comes to transportation funding,” Aubourg said in a statement. “It helps to have these economists who have analyzed the industry and have access to the full range of what is possible now and in the future.”

Ernst & Young did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Much of the research into the state’s transportation funding problems and solutions for which Ernst & Young consultants were hired has already been conducted by state agencies and outside organizations over the past several years . MBTA staff also presented information to the agency’s board about what other states are doing.

Healey created the Transportation Funding Task Force in January when she released her budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins in July, which calls for $172 million to close the state’s estimated $628 million budget gap. T. The task force, Healey said, is expected to report back to him by the end of the year on recommendations for a statewide “long-term, sustainable transportation financing plan.” .

Healey announced the 31 appointees for the task force in February, some of whom are members of his administration. The chair is Secretary of Transportation Monica Tibbits-Nutt and the vice chair is Secretary of Administration and Finance Matthew Gorzkowicz.

MBTA pays Ernst & Young senior managing director Jon Godsmark and two other general managers, Tom Rousakis and Andrew Phillips, $610 an hour for their services. The consultants’ LinkedIn profiles show that Godsmark and Phillips are based in Washington DC and Rousakis is based in New York.

For a task force meeting this month, the consultants were tasked with preparing a “presentation analyzing the state’s current transportation funding sources, future revenue projections and key driving factors,” according to a copy of the contract. Next month, the consultants are expected to prepare a “presentation summarizing international and U.S. peer analysis to identify a range of potential new sources of transportation financing.” In July and August, they will present possible sources of revenue and the “potential economic and social impacts” of these sources.

By October, the consultants will draft a “technical report for review by working group members,” and then, by the first week of December, they will have a final report ready for review by group members of work, according to the contract.

The consultants are expected to meet weekly with MassDOT, Administration & Finance and MBTA, according to the contract.

A Globe report earlier this year found that Minnesota and New York had adopted new taxes to balance the operating budgets of their largest transit agencies for years to come.

Last month, Healey told a business group that she had “no plans to propose new taxes or increase existing ones” and shut down an idea floated by Tibbits-Nutt to impose tolls at state borders.

Some project members expressed frustration with the decision to bring in the consultants without determining as a group what the scope of the contract should be. Members said they had not seen the contract.

Member of the working group Amie Shei, executive director of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, said there is “zero transparency” about what consultants are focusing on.

“Greater transparency on what consultants work on would be helpful to avoid duplication of effort,” she said. “For someone who serves central Massachusetts, I would like to know that regional equity is a consideration and that consultants are not just focused on the MBTA.”

Kane, of the MBTA advisory board, said he doubts MassDOT will reimburse the MBTA for the contract, citing the fact that the department still has not reimbursed the T for $7 million in transit mitigation during the closure of the Sumner Tunnel last year. MassDOT’s Aubourg said the MBTA will be reimbursed once the consultants’ work is completed.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this again,” he said of the research. The advisory board has prepared dozens of reports on MBTA’s finances.

Task force member Jim Rooney, CEO of the Boston Chamber of Commerce and former general manager of the T, said he thought the task force needed outside help and praised Ernst’s qualifications & Young, saying it was helpful to get a fresh look at the problem.

But the task force’s final product will likely look less like a path forward and more like a “menu of possible solutions.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to say definitively: Here’s the plan,” Rooney said.

Boston

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