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Elections and Politics

Breaking A Campaign Promise, Healey Admin. Denies Public Records Request for MBTA’s Repair Needs

Gov. Healey's efforts to hide the MBTA's repair needs are by no means the first time her administration has leveraged the weaknesses of the state's public records laws.

A group of people wearing fluorescent yellow safety vests chats in a circle next to a parked MBTA bus.

Governor Healey chats with MBTA workers at the Cabot Yard maintenance facility after an announcing a new labor deal with the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 on August 2, 2023.

Turning her back on a campaign promise to run a more transparent administration, Governor Maura Healey has rejected a StreetsblogMASS public records request for a report that tallies up the MBTA's considerable repair needs.

For the past year, the MBTA has been working on a "capital needs assessment," a detailed accounting of how much it will cost to bring Boston's transit system into a state of good repair.

Sources familiar with the process have told StreetsblogMASS that the capital needs assessment is largely complete, with a multi-billion dollar estimate for the system's total repair costs.

According to an October 2022 report to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the document was supposed to be released before the end of 2022.

Key decisionmakers remain in the dark

But Governor Healey's administration, which took over the Governor's office in January, has been withholding the document, even as the MBTA's repair needs grow more and more acute.

And without the capital needs assessment, key decision-makers – both in the Legislature and among the MBTA's Board of Directors – remained in the dark while approving new budgets for fiscal year 2024.

In June, StreetsblogMASS filed a formal request for the document and associated email correspondence under the state's public records law.

The MBTA told StreetsblogMASS that the agency would need to assess a $2,575 fee to process and redact those documents.

We followed up in July with a public records request specific to the Governor's office, requesting "email correspondence to or from any staff in the Governor's Office" that was delivered between February and June and includes the phrases "Capital Needs Assessment" or "CNA."

On Friday, Jesse M. Boodoo, Gov. Healey's Records Access Officer, told StreetsblogMASS that the Governor would ignore that request.

"By law, records held by the Office of the Governor are not subject to the Massachusetts public records law," asserted Boodoo. Read the full denial letter here.

Massachusetts has an unusually weak public records law. It is the only state in the nation where the Legislature, the Governor’s office, and the courts all claim exemptions from public records requests.

Before she took office in December, Healey told Jim Braude of WGBH that her administration would be more committed to transparency and would not claim exemptions from the public records law.

Gov. Healey's efforts to hide the MBTA's repair needs are by no means the first time her administration has leveraged the weaknesses of the state's records laws.

The Governor has also claimed exemptions from the state's law to hide the names and financial contributions of campaign donors.

And shortly after taking office, the Governor denied requests from the Boston Globe for access to her e-mails and phone call records.

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