Entries by Kevin Lawson

Boston: The Jaywalking Capital of America?

If you see someone waiting for a walk signal at a Boston intersection, you know he or she is a tourist. The rest of us do a rapid-fire speed check of oncoming traffic and gauge the risk of crossing, walk signal or not. It doesn’t work that way in most other US cities where fines for jaywalking are steep. The jaywalking fine for Boston is laughably cheap—just $1. Even though Boston has fewer pedestrian fatalities than New York City, the fine does nothing to deter pedestrians from crossing whenever and wherever they want to. City (Most to least populous) Jaywalking Fine Pedestrian Fatalities in 2013 Fatality Rate per 100,000 People New York City $40-$100 178 2.12 Los Angeles $190-$250 76 […]

Why Are Tuition and Fees Rising at UMass?

Over the last half-century, college tuition costs have exploded at a rate that far outpaces the consumer price index (CPI). The reasons for this spike in cost vary by type of institution. For public higher education, the Delta Cost Project, a research institution focused on American higher education, notes the rise is rooted in increases in spending on administration and student support services alongside changes in government funding.  These factors are accountable in part for what the Office of Institutional Research at UMass’s flagship Amherst campus has reported to be an inflation-adjusted increase of 84% in tuition costs since 2000. Pioneer’s MassOpenBooks, a transparency application that pulls together and publicizes outgoing payments made by government organizations, sheds light on what […]

An Open Request to the State Ethics Commission

When the State Ethics Commission was created in 1978 under Section 2 of Chapter 268B of Massachusetts General Laws, it aimed to establish meaningful transparency. The law required every public official and candidate for public office to submit a yearly Statement of Financial Interest (SFI) and tasked the Ethics Commission with creating and overseeing these forms in accordance with the law. Today, the Commission’s system of financial disclosure largely lacks relevance and it falls short of the spirit of the law. The law gives the Commission broad discretion over details of the disclosures. Section 5 (f) states, “the statement of financial interests filed pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be on a form prescribed by the commission…”  Thus, […]

Making Financial Disclosures “Available for Public Inspection”

Chapter 268B, Section 3(d) of Massachusetts General Laws provides that the State Ethics Commission must “make statements and reports filed with the commission available for public inspection and copying”, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the filings being available to the public in any meaningful way. By withholding Statements of Financial Interest (SFIs) from online publication, the Commission has failed to keep up with the modernization of filing methods. Even in person, forms are not always viewable. When asking to view many forms at once, requestors face waits that can reach “a number of months”, according to the Ethics Commission’s response to a Boston Globe request for all 3,800 SFIs filed in 2014. Yes, this is a large request, but […]

Massachusetts Financial Disclosures – Weak and Out of Reach

In the last five years, 250 public servants in Massachusetts faced charges for crimes or ethics violations, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), which rated Massachusetts a D+ on legislative accountability. In an interview with the CPI, George Brown, former chairman of the State Ethics Commission, attributed this dismal grade to a political culture that puts itself above the law. The state’s high rate of ethical lapses and low legislative accountability grade are by-products of our inadequate government transparency laws and policies. A key ingredient of government transparency is the Statement of Financial Interests (SFIs) elected officials and other policy-making appointees are required to file annually. When the thoroughness of or public access to SFIs is wanting, a […]

MassDOT Relocation Proposal Gives Way to More Pressing Issues

The Baker administration has recently abandoned a proposal to move the headquarters of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation from its current location at 10 Park Plaza to a vacant seven-acre parcel in Roxbury known as Tremont Crossing. Fundamental to the project’s demise was its exorbitant price tag, which early estimates placed at $350 million, far more than the $121 million valuation of the MassDOT’s current home, as cited by a BostInno reporter. Governor Baker’s spokesman, Tim Buckley, noted recently that “given the $1.8 billion deficit the administration inherited, there are currently no plans to relocate the state transportation building”. This is another welcome display of sound financial management from the governor’s office. Still, members of the Roxbury community, who had […]