Entries by Editorial Staff

Pioneer Institute Celebrates Sunshine Week 2019

Sunshine Week is dedicated to bringing greater awareness to the importance of government transparency and to highlighting areas where improvement is needed. After all, a healthy democracy is unsustainable unless people are fully informed and can meaningfully engage in the democratic process. To celebrate Sunshine Week, each year Pioneer reviews some of its recent work to bring greater public accountability to Massachusetts government. Our objective is for the Commonwealth to rank among the nation’s most transparent states. Sadly, in its latest rankings, the Center for Public Integrity placed Massachusetts among the worst states for public records access. While there has been some progress since then to bring sunshine to Beacon Hill, many would say a persistent gray cloud looms over […]

Study Finds Massachusetts Lagging on Transparency of Public Official Statements of Financial Interest

A few simple changes would update system, improve transparency Read coverage of this report in State House News Service. BOSTON – Despite some recent progress, a new policy brief published by Pioneer Institute finds there is more to do if the Commonwealth is to make the Statements of Financial Interest (SFIs) that public officials file annually truly accessible to Massachusetts citizens. “With just a few critical changes, Massachusetts could progress from maintaining one of the least transparent and least constituent-friendly financial disclosure regimes in the nation to becoming a national leader in the accessibility and usefulness of its public officials’ Statements of Financial Interest.” Said Mary Connaughton, co-author of “Outdated and Obfuscated:  The State of Public Financial Disclosure in Massachusetts.” All […]

New Study Finds Multiple Problems with Push for Social-Emotional Learning in K-12 Education

Little research evidence for, or objective, reliable way to measure SEL’s efficacy; raises significant concerns about student health and privacy BOSTON – Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been billed as a transformational tool that will propel students to greater academic achievement and personal fulfillment.  Unfortunately, as a new Pioneer Institute study makes clear, the research evidence to back up these claims is thin and unpersuasive. Moreover, the risks SEL poses to student privacy and health are significant. Proponents of SEL call for focusing less on academic content and knowledge in schools, and more on student attributes, mindsets, values, and behaviors. Not only are the goals of SEL ill-defined, but they also raise significant, unanswered questions about what attitudes should be promoted. […]

Teacher Unions Support Progressive Taxation, but Maintain Flat-Rate Membership Dues Structure

Study shows lowest-paid teachers can pay up to 140 percent more of their salary than highest-paid teachers in membership dues BOSTON – A new study published by Pioneer Institute finds that despite backing progressive taxation initiatives, Massachusetts teacher unions use regressive methods to collect revenue from their own members. “The Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) was the top contributor to a failed initiative to establish a graduated income tax in 2018,” said Pioneer Executive Director Jim Stergios.  “They have been part of similar efforts numerous times in the past and are again supportive of a new effort to do so this year.  Yet their members all pay flat dues, regardless of annual salary.” In “Unions Are Not Progressive When It Comes […]

Whistleblowers Were Proven Right: MBTARF Was Underreporting Its Unfunded Pension Liabilities

In a new brief, Pioneer shows that whistleblowers’ 2015 claim that the MBTA Retirement Fund (MBTARF) had been underreporting its unfunded pension liabilities has proven to have been accurate. In their study, Boston University Professor Mark T. Williams and Bernie Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopo­los outlined three specific ways in which the T pension fund was underreporting its liability. Pioneer’s scorecard shows that they were right on all three counts, adding up to a total of $280 million in underreported pension liability. At the time, MBTARF vigorously refuted the validity of the findings. Spokesman Steve Crawford said, “The fund stands by its reported investment returns and by its asset and liability calculations,” and that “MBTA retirees and beneficiaries can be confident that […]

Pioneer Institute Public Statement on the MBTA’s Proposal to Increase Fares by 6.3 Percent

While Pioneer Institute opposed the 2016 MBTA fare increases, the Institute believes that the T has earned an increase in fares of 6.3 percent, provided it is committed to introduce differential pricing, address chronic fare non-collection, fix the T’s faltering pension system, and focus investments on key service upgrades.  These commitments would modernize fare-setting and mitigate the negative impact of fare increases, ensure that the additional fare revenues are actually going to service improvements, and lay the groundwork for greater fare revenue generation through increased ridership. In opposing the 2016 fare increase of 9.3 percent, we noted: “Fare increases should be linked to demonstrable service improvements. The customer must also come first when it comes to fare increases. The T […]

Study Finds Patient Cost for MRI Largely Unrelated to Overall Price or Insurer Contribution at 14 MA Hospitals

Read coverage of this report in WCVB-TV, Boston Herald, the Boston Business Journal, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and FierceHealthcare. Authors recommend greater transparency and financial incentives for patients to choose lower-cost, high-value providers BOSTON – There is little correlation between a patient’s out-of-pocket cost and either the amount insurers pay or the overall price of a procedure at 14 representative Massachusetts hospitals, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. “Even if patients don’t see differences in out-of-pocket prices among hospitals, higher utilization of more expensive providers drives up the cost of care, which puts upward pressure on insurance premiums,” said Barbara Anthony, co-author of “Wildly Varying MRI Prices at Massachusetts Hospitals: Why We Need Access to Healthcare Prices […]

The U.S. shouldn’t use the ‘QALY’ in drug cost-effectiveness reviews

This op-ed by William Smith appeared in STAT News on February 22, 2019. What’s a year of life worth? That question is at the heart of a metric called the quality-adjusted life year that is increasingly being used to make decisions about paying for new drugs. If I was asked that question about one of my children, my answer would be “limitless,” and no one could persuade me otherwise. But others are putting a discrete price tag on it. Answering how much a quality-adjusted life year (QALY) is worth isn’t a theoretical or philosophical exercise. A number of European health care systems use so-called cost-effectiveness reviews that depend on QALYs to make decisions about which drugs to cover. Since these […]

Majority of Dues Paid by Mass. Public Higher Education Faculty Goes to State, National Union Affiliates

At state colleges and universities, portion that stays on campus as low as 1 percent BOSTON – Only a small share of annual union dues paid by faculty at the University of Massachusetts, state colleges and universities and community college campuses that make dues data publicly available remain with local union affiliates to cover the costs of collective bargaining and grievance procedures, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. “Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Janus case gives public employees the right to make informed decisions about joining or remaining in the union,” said Pioneer Institute executive director Jim Stergios.  “As faculty make determinations about the value of union membership, it’s important for them to know […]

Study Says State Unfunded Pension Liability Rising Despite Recent Reforms, Overall Strong Economy

More responsible assumptions about pension fund investment performance partially responsible for increase BOSTON – Despite several reform bills targeted at the Commonwealth’s public pension system in recent years, the unfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) has continued to rise and is drawing closer to a crisis level, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. “The Commonwealth’s public pension system is in deep trouble and liabilities have nearly tripled since 2003,” said Greg Sullivan, co-author of “Massachusetts’ Skyrocketing Unfunded Pension Liability.”  “This is occurring despite repeated efforts to eliminate provisions that allowed rampant abuses and have increased current costs and future obligations.” Despite numerous reform efforts, Massachusetts ranked 11th among the states in 2016 in unfunded pension liability per capita ($5,642 per […]

Study: After Janus, Public Employees Should Only Pay Union Dues, Fees After Knowing, Intelligent Waiver

Public Employers Should Immediately Stop Collecting Agency Fees from Non-Union Members Unless Employees Effectuate Valid Waiver of First Amendment Rights BOSTON – In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus decision, public employers should inform all employees of their right not to pay union dues or agency fees, and such dues and fees should be paid only after a knowing and intelligent waiver of their First Amendment rights, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute. In Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Court ruled that an Illinois public employee who chose not to join his union could not be required to pay an “agency fee” that covers collective bargaining costs […]

Study: Financial Impact of Charter Schools Depends on Percentage of Funding Districts Receive from State

“Foundation” districts unaffected, but charter tuition may cause strain for fast-growing “above-foundation” school districts Contact Jamie Gass, 617-723-2277 ext. 210 or jgass@pioneerinstitute.org BOSTON – At a time when the funding of charter schools is widely debated, a new Pioneer Institute study finds that foundation districts are largely unaffected by students who choose to transfer to charter schools. “So-called foundation districts receive most of their funding from the state, which means that the state effectively pays the tuition when students choose charters,” said Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, who co-authored “Charter School Funding in Massachusetts: A Primer” with Professor Ken Ardon. “But they can impact ‘above-foundation’ districts, particularly those that experience rapid enrollment growth.” Watch: Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, Pioneer Institute Senior Fellow, explains […]

Baker’s Orwellian drug pricing policy

This op-ed by William Smith appeared in Commonwealth Magazine on February 3, 2019. THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION recently released its budget proposal for one of their most high-profile issues: drug prices in the Medicaid program. To the surprise of many in the biopharmaceutical industry, there are some promising initiatives in the proposal from an administration that is thought to be hostile to the industry on drug prices. By far the most important provision in the proposal is the governor’s request for the authority to negotiate so-called “supplemental rebate payments” that are “based upon the value, efficacy or outcomes of the drug.” This is an extremely promising development for the Massachusetts biotechnology industry, which is churning out many new drugs for rare and life-threatening diseases […]

Our Government Transparency Resolutions for 2019

Government transparency has already suffered two major blows in 2019. First, a special legislative commission charged with making recommendations on the legislature’s and governor’s exemptions from public records law failed to reach consensus on a long-awaited report on improvements.> Second, Mr. Transparency himself, State Comptroller Tom Shack, the driver behind CTHRU, the state’s highly acclaimed spending transparency website, announced he was leaving state service. The recent state police overtime scandals came to light when journalists reviewed CTHRU. Historically, Massachusetts has ranked at or near rock bottom nationally in terms of open government, with one of the chief reasons being the legislature’s exemptions from open meeting and public records law. It’s time to change that and it will be up to the […]

Study Urges Caution Before Adopting ICER Reviews to Determine Cost Effectiveness of Treatments

Review methodology could negatively impact elderly, the disabled, cancer patients and those with rare diseases Media inquiries: Contact Micaela Dawson, 617-723-2277 ext. 203 or mdawson@pioneerinstitute.org BOSTON – As states continue to grapple with prescription drug costs, a new Pioneer Institute study lays out the key ethical, methodological and disease-specific questions policy makers should address before deciding whether to contract with the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) to conduct cost effectiveness reviews used to make decisions about the purchase of medicines and other medical innovations. ICER utilizes Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs), a controversial evaluation technique that assigns an economic value to the longevity and quality of human life. “The use of the QALY standard in the United Kingdom resulted […]

Saluting a Fine Public Servant

State comptroller isn’t a job that’s very familiar to the average Massachusetts resident, but during his tenure, Tom Shack has shown just how important and impactful the position can be.  As he departs the office, he deserves kudos for his good work. Soon after his appointment in 2015, Tom recognized the need to improve state government transparency.  Although providing a transparency site wasn’t a statutory responsibility of comptroller, he felt compelled to research solutions to provide the Commonwealth’s citizens with a state of the art, intuitive, and user-friendly platform to get more eyes on state data. In September 2016, CTHRU successfully debuted.  It took just seven months to develop and cost far less to procure and maintain compared to its […]

Public Statement on Alma del Mar Charter School Expansion

Last night, Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) made a recommendation concerning Alma del Mar Charter School’s application to serve 1,188 more students in New Bedford. Commissioner Riley is recommending that Alma be expanded to serve 450 more students, that the school accept students from a neighborhood rather than through the usual district-wide lottery system, and that the New Bedford district make one of its underutilized buildings available to Alma. As these maneuvers are outside the bounds of the Department’s power and the statutes related to charter school approvals, they will require approval by the city and state legislature. Should the politicos fail to get behind the necessary compromises, the Commissioner will likely have to put […]

Study: After-School Programs Can Help Improve Flat or Declining Math Achievement

Philanthropic, other organizations should consider providing financial assistance to allow programs to expand into lower-income communities BOSTON – At a time of declining state and national math proficiency, after-school math programs offer a viable option for quickly increasing the number of mathematically competent students, according to a new Pioneer Institute study that profiles two such programs: Kumon and the Russian School of Mathematics (RSM). “Given the disappointing state of math education in American public schools, after-school math programs could play a particularly important role,” said Ze’ev Wurman, co-author with William Donovan, of “Axioms of Excellence: Kumon and the Russian School of Mathematics.” For the first time since 1990, fourth- and eighth-grade math scores fell on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational […]

Press Release: Pioneer Institute Filed Amicus Brief in Case Applying Supreme Court’s Janus Ruling to MA

BOSTON – On January 8th, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Ben Branch v. Commonwealth Employment Relations Board, in which the SJC will decide how the United States Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will affect Massachusetts law. Pioneer Institute, through its public interest law arm, PioneerLegal, has filed an amicus curiae brief in the case prepared by WilmerHale’s Mark Matuschak and Robert Kingsley Smith. Professor Ben Branch has taught for 38 years at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. For decades, he has objected to having to pay compulsory service fees. To stop having to pay without consent, Dr. Branch and three other non-union educators brought the lawsuit now before […]

Announcing Pioneer Institute’s 2019 Better Government Competition: “Moving People & Goods Forward”

America is a country on the move. Our economy and quality of life depend on the effectiveness of our transportation systems. State, local, and federal governments invest hundreds of billions of dollars each year in transportation infrastructure, yet we continue to waste hours in traffic, arrive late for work and medical appointments, and miss out on family time. America is the fifth most congested country in the world, and Boston is the nation’s seventh most congested city. As economies grow increasingly oriented toward metropolitan areas, these challenges will intensify. Pioneer Institute’s 2019 Better Government Competition is focused on ideas that get commuters to where they need to go conveniently and reliably, and transform our transportation system from a constraint on […]

Happy New Year, from Pioneer Institute!

As we ring in 2019, we at Pioneer Institute thank all of you, especially our supporters, for the privilege of hosting public forums with experts and engaging speakers; publishing evidence-based research on the most important public policy issues of the day; and making progress toward better schools, more efficient and accountable government, more affordable healthcare, and a more prosperous economy.  Through our growing media presence, we’ve reached millions of readers, viewers, and listeners – and we hope you’ll help us spread our message of opportunity to even more in the new year!

A Win for Commuters

We are thrilled that the MBTA is moving forward to expand its corporate pass program (CPP) as recommended by Pioneer Institute in January. Pioneer believes the program has great potential to increase both ridership and revenue. The MBTA’s corporate pass program allows employees to purchase T passes through their employers with pre-tax dollars, which in turn reduces employee taxable income and employers’ payroll taxes. The program allows companies to subsidize passes for employees as a pre-tax benefit. The goal is to incentivize more people to use public transportation and improve the environment. Everybody wins. Under commuter benefit programs, employers can provide their employees with a tax-free transit subsidy and/or exclude from taxable wages a total of up to $260 monthly. These benefits can cut employee […]

Moving the MBTA Forward

We are pleased that former Pioneer Institute Research Director Steve Poftak has been named the next General Manager of the MBTA. While at Pioneer, Steve oversaw and directly authored a high-quality portfolio of research that spanned from transportation and infrastructure to pension and other state and local post-employment liabilities. Pioneer has long been committed to advancing excellent mobility options for all residents and visitors, including a wide range of public transit services. After the T melted down in reaction to the winter of 2015’s record snowfall, the Institute combined academic-quality research with efforts to educate the public on a series of timely reforms, starting with our proposal to create a Fiscal and Management Control Board and including changes to the T’s sick time policy, troubled pension […]

Leading Public Intellectual Steven Pinker to Headline 2018 Lovett C. Peters Lecture in Public Policy

Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard, Bestselling Author to Be Honored at Pioneer Gala & 30th Anniversary Celebration Contact Micaela Dawson, 617-723-2277 ext. 203 or mdawson@pioneerinstitute.org BOSTON – Tonight, Dr. Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, will provide the keynote remarks at Pioneer Institute’s 2018 Lovett C. Peters Lecture in Public Policy, “Seeming Turmoil in a World of Progress.” Before an audience of over 200 Pioneer supporters, Professor Pinker will share findings from his new book on the empirical evidence of global progress. “It’s easy to get caught up in the negative news cycle and succumb to the notion that the world is in crisis,” said Jim Stergios, Pioneer Institute Executive Director. “Dr. Pinker offers […]

Review of MBTA Twitter Alerts Finds Fewer “Delayed” Trains, Corresponding Increase in Those “Running Behind”

BOSTON – A review of four years of MBTA commuter rail Twitter alerts reveals that the number of trains that are “delayed” has fallen, but there is a commensurate increase in the number of trains classified as “running behind,” leaving the overall number of late trains largely unchanged. “While the terminology has changed, it appears the performance hasn’t,” said Kaila Webb, author of “Commuter Rail Twitter Reveals History of Delays.”  “To a commuter on his or her way to Boston, it doesn’t really matter what the MBTA calls its tardiness.” The MBTA has made no public, written announcement differentiating trains that are running behind from those that are delayed. The T reached out to Pioneer to explain that the change […]

Public Statement on MBTA Ridership & Pension Costs

Monday’s meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board brought bad news on two fronts:  T ridership is down and pension costs are up.  Neither is a new problem, but both will require bold action to fix. Specifically, ridership was down 2 percent in the first quarter of the current fiscal year.  As a result, fare revenue came in more than 3 percent below projections.  In comments on the MBTA’s Draft Strategic Plan, Pioneer called for making increased ridership the document’s organizing principle, because it would result in more revenue, bring environmental benefits, and reduce traffic congestion.  To achieve those goals, the T must view all potential projects through a ridership lens, which means focusing on Red and Orange […]

New Bedford Mayor Flip-Flops on Charter Support

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted New Bedford’s fight over the expansion of a highly successful Southcoast charter public school, Alma del Mar. In the last few months, New Bedford’s mayor Jon Mitchell has channeled his inner, vengeful Captain Ahab to vocally rally charter school opposition among his city’s educational special interest groups (here, here, and here). But as this 2016 video from New Bedford local access cable demonstrates, not long ago Mayor Mitchell was singing a very different tune as he gushed about Alma del Mar charter and the school’s outstanding leader Will Gardner at this charter school’s ribbon cutting ceremony. Video: Pioneer Senior Fellow Cara Stillings Candal on the Fight for Alma del Mar Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, […]

The Roger Perry Internship Program

Pioneer has established the Roger Perry Internship Program to support college-age students who seek opportunities to enhance their educational experience with practical training in an energetic and creative public policy environment.

“Catch-22” of State Prevailing Wage Law Prevents Flagger Reform from Achieving Significant Savings

State law sets prevailing wage at highest collectively bargained rate, which ties civilian flagger pay rates to police detail rates Read about this report in the Boston Herald. BOSTON – The unusual way in which Massachusetts determines prevailing wages and the fact that civilian flaggers are subject to state prevailing wage law explain why a 2008 law that ended the Commonwealth’s status as the only state to require police at road construction projects has failed to generate substantial savings, according to a new policy brief published by Pioneer Institute. Massachusetts is one of just five states to stipulate that prevailing wage – which establishes pay rates on public construction projects – be set at a level at least equal to rates […]