Entries by Amy Tournas

The Opioid Crisis’ Wealth Window: There’s a Network of Overdoses on the East Coast

Billerica, Massachusetts is a quaint town of 40,000 people in Middlesex County, the 25th richest county in the nation, right after Rockwall County, Texas, according to the 2016 American Community Survey.   Billerica’s town government spends its time improving their Yankee Doodle Bike Path and protecting their local wetlands. Their Council on Aging even gives out gift cards for local restaurants to those who participate in local government events. On Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 a raffle was held at their “Opioids & How NOT To Be a Victim” event for a $50 gift card to one such restaurant. Unfortunately, beautiful Billerica has had 56 residents die from opioid overdoses since 2000, giving it a death rate of 1.4 per 1,000 people. […]

Blandford’s Police Resignation Could Shed Light on Underlying Issues

Last week, the Town of Blandford’s police force resigned en masse, leaving the community without local police, and increasing the presence of state police. All four members of the Town of Blandford’s police, including the interim Chief Roberta Sarnacki, resigned last week, claiming they were working in unsafe conditions for unfair wages. Sarnacki said these unsafe conditions included ill-fitting and expired bullet-proof vests, radios that did not work in most parts of the town, and a number of issues with their police vehicles, including air conditioning, brake, and seat problems. The officers also claimed they were paid less than they deserved for putting their lives in danger. “They are asking us to do this with no radio coverage, no real […]

So what will Commissioner Evans’ Pension Be?

A few weeks ago, Boston Police commissioner William B. Evans announced his retirement, and just this week William Gross was sworn in as the new Boston Police Department Commissioner at a ceremony held at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. After 38 years on the Boston police force and four years as commissioner, William Evans decided to end his career of constant on-the-clock service. By all accounts, his service to the city was exceptional.   Commissioner Evans was noted for rising through the ranks of the Boston police force. He joined as a cadet, and since has served every position. As a captain, Evans was first stationed in Boston’s most densely populated region. As superintendent, he peacefully mitigated Occupy Boston, which […]

Under Pending Bill, Punishment could Fit the Crime

In light of recent turmoil in the Department of State Police (DSP), Governor Baker has called for not only revoking the pensions of the troopers involved in the overtime scandal, but to be harder on the forfeiture of pensions. In recent months, troopers who are under investigation have rushed to retire to keep their pensions safe; some have even begun to receive benefits. According to the Boston Globe, since the investigation began, at least 17 troopers have retired, many of whom have received hefty buyouts for unused vacation and sick days. However, these pensions might not be safe if state lawmakers pass Bill S2074 in time. The legislative session ended on July 31st, but the investigation is ongoing, so there […]

Stonewalled at City Hall

Pioneer Institute interns often visit government offices to obtain or confirm information we may use in a blog.  In this capacity, we made a trip to Boston’s City Hall to determine which retirement group Commissioner William Evans would fall into. Public retirees in Massachusetts are broken into four groups that use different calculations to determine pension benefits.  Group 1, which includes most employees, gets the least generous benefit, while members of Group 3 (the State Police) receive the richest.   While one would think the public could get an answer to the question online, it simply wasn’t that easy. The classification for group numbers on the City of Boston’s “Your Retirement Options” page is unclear and vague when it comes […]

Making Troopers Transparent: At What Cost?

In May 2018, The Boston Globe reported on its effort to gain access to information about troopers through a lawsuit aimed at the Massachusetts Department of State Police (DSP) as part of an overall effort to hold the DSP more accountable. In light of various scandals, increased transparency in the beleaguered agency is critical to restore public trust. However, too much transparency may put troopers at risk in some cases. The key is finding the appropriate balance between privacy and transparency.  After all, how can we hold the agency accountable if we have no insight into what its employees are doing on the state’s dime? A compromise is in order. As an example, California discloses the names and area where […]

Top Methuen Police Officials Poised to Earn Far More than State Police (even including the State Police Overtime)

The city of Methuen is currently facing a budget crisis primarily due to school system debt and newly negotiated police contracts.   Top police officials are poised to be the highest-paid officers in the state. According to the Boston Globe, a new contract will result in five Methuen police captains making an average of $432,295 annually.  Seven lieutenants will make $269,823, and 12 sergeants will earn $160,018.  City Police Chief Joseph Solomon will pull in $371,520.   These pay hikes resulted from new contracts negotiated by the previous mayor, Stephen Zanni. The agreements hike certain salaries to sky-high levels due to required pay percentage differentials among the various ranks. The percentages of their wages will now be derived from base […]

Parking Fine Hikes in Boston: a step in Go Boston 2030’s Larger Plan

On July 2, 2018, parking ticket fines in Boston increased substantially. In an attempt to decrease congestion and increase efficiency, the City of Boston hiked the fines for the first time in 10 years. According to the City of Boston’s website, the increased fines represent those violations that: most negatively impact residents, are most frequently violated, and are a source of traffic congestion and safety issues. Before this fine hike, many people would not pay the meter (see table below under “meter fee unpaid”).  Quite often, it was less expensive for drivers to pay a parking violation than park in private lots or garages. Source: Patch.com The city estimated the increased fines will bring $5 million in new revenue targeted […]

Proportional Parking Fees: The MBTA Listens to Pioneer’s Recommendations

The Pioneer Institute has produced extensive research on the MBTA. Not only has it provided analysis and criticism, but various remedies to policy. In particular, Pioneer’s research has gained notoriety and resulted in a policy change. One issue that recently influenced MBTA policy was Pioneer’s research on the lack of available parking spaces at highly populated T-stops. In many of the parking lots the MBTA owns, it is difficult to find a parking spot, deterring many commuters, forcing them to drive into work, and exacerbating the decline in MBTA commuter rail ridership. The MBTA has been trying to find a cure for the high demand, low supply of commuter parking. They have considered increasing fees to park in all parking […]

After the toll booths, where did the toll collectors go?

It has been almost two years since Massachusetts implemented fully cashless toll collection. The hope was to improve traffic flow, decrease harmful environmental emissions, increase safety and save money on personnel costs that could be redirected to maintenance or other capital projects. In 2016, 446 employees operated toll booths on the Mass Pike and Tobin Bridge. The average annual pay during 2015 for Toll Collector I and Toll Collector II was approximately $63,000 and $73,834, respectively. Factoring overtime pay, many employees were making over $100,000 . In this post-manual toll collection era, many have asked: Where did the toll collectors go? The Commonwealth gave the toll collectors a few options. Eligible toll collectors were allowed to retire under the Early […]

Income and education gaps, and the lack of mobility in Worcester County

Massachusetts is known to have some of the top public schools in the country. Its traditional, vocational, and charter schools are ranked best in the nation across a variety of disciplines. Gaining access to these schools, however, comes at a steep price. For example, Worcester County communities spend much of their overall budgets on education. According to MassAnalysis, the 10 towns in the county with the highest per capita education expenditures spend an average of 56.8 percent of their total budgets on schools. But does all this spending yield results? While there are many additional factors to consider, there is a correlation to spending and results. Six out of the ten towns with the highest education spending are also in […]