In an about-faced, Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld now says he would take the reins of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority if recently introduced legislation to that effect is passed by the Assembly, according to his spokesman.
When a Massachusetts state lawmaker suggested that Weld take control of the MWRA just two months ago, the governor was said to have bristled at the thought.
But yesterday, a Weld spokesman said the governor would accept control of the MWRA board if the legislature passes an amendment to the proposed budget, and that he would take personal responsibility for any state water and sewer rate increases.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Roosevelt, D-Boston, would authorize Weld to appoint a majority of the 11-member board of directors and to oversee all fiscal decisions for the authority.
"Essentially, if approved, the governor and the Department of Administration and Finance would oversee the authority and all its decisions," said Dominic Slowey, an administration spokesman. "If we get it, we'll sign it."
Slowey admitted that monitoring all the workings of the authority would be challenging, and said the governor has some ideas about handling the authority.
"It may be time for the MWRA to get a bit more responsive to the people of the state," he said. "The place needs to be brought under better control." Slowey said the authority may not be doing all it can do to monitor costs. Weld has said many times that he would also prefer communities' water and sewer assessments from the authority to be based on usage rather: than purely on population, which is now the case.
Several Commonwealth sources said that approval of the measure may be tied to another proposed amendment in the budget plan.
Weld has said he would be willing to dedicate $30 million this year for water and sewer ratepayer relief. Weld also has said he would approve the $30 million as a tax credit, but authority officials have been pushing for a direct appropriation to the authority.
One source familiar with the MWRA said the Republican governor would approve the direct payment to the authority only if he was given more control over how the money would be used.
Slowey denied the governor's approval is conditional.
The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it would be unfortunate for the authority and its projects if Weld were given further control.
"If, in an election year, he could build a plant for $2 billion that looked like it worked or a plant that worked well for $2.3 billion, what do you think the voters up here would like the most?" the source said, suggesting that pleasing the voters would be a bigger priority. The nomination of Weld for this post comes at an odd time, the source said. because of Weld's expected run for reelection.
"If Weld is in any way successful in lowering rates, it will be impossible for anyone to beat him," the source said. "And if the legislation is not passed, then he can tell the voters that he warned them, he should have been in charge."
The source also noted that Roosevelt is expected to be a strong contender in next year's race.
"I don't think Roosevelt thought we would ever want to do [run the authority]," Slowey said. "But the governor does not look at the problems of the authority as insurmountable."
"It's kind of playing into the governor's hands," another source said.
The MWRA had its monthly board of directors meeting yesterday, but the matter was not scheduled to be discussed.
Paul DiNatale, spokesman for the authority, said that no contingency plan for the boards role was being considered yesterday because the prospect of increased participation from the governor is extremely premature.
The bill is only one of several pieces of legislation dealing with the MWRA that are currently before a six-member, joint House and Senate committee designed to present the governor with what should be about a $15.3 billion fiscal 1994 budget.
The committee is also deciding how much state aid the authority will receive during the fiscal year, and whether to use tax revenues from a floating casino for water and sewer rate relief.
Because Massachusetts' fiscal year begins today and the budget remains unfinished, emergency legislation was passed yesterday to continue providing welfare benefits and salaries for state workers.
Slowey expects the budget to be finished by the committee and to be on the governor's desk late next week.
The MWRA was established in 1984 to act as an apolitical, independent entity designed to improve the state's aging water and sewer facilities.
But in May 1986, federal Judge A. David Mazzone charged the authority to manage the cleanup of the Boston Harbor in a $6 billion project.
The authority has issued over $2 billion in bonds and is expected to continue issuing debt until the year 2000.
Slowey said that although he admits this would dramatically change the scope and look of the MWRA, he does not see it as a problem.
"In the last two-and-a-half years, we have made a lot of improvements in the state's finances," he said. "Maybe the authority could use the same kind of house-cleaning."
The governor currently has three appointees on the authority's board of directors, including Trudy Coxe, secretary of Environmental Affairs.