Entries by Kaila Webb

The Metro & the MBTA: Raising Fares May Not Be Enough

New York City and Boston are drastically different cities, but their transit systems are struggling with the same problems. Now both cities have proposed fare increases as part of their solutions. Many riders are upset, claiming they haven’t seen improvements sufficient to merit the increases. Transit advocates and policy researchers lament that the fare hikes won’t be enough without big changes.   The Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City (MTA) claims their fare increase is modest, mostly just an inflation adjustment. Last year the MTA postponed voting on a fare increase until February of 2019, saying the declining quality of the system made it hard to justify an increase. They were then able to slightly improve system reliability, and […]

After Win Number Six, Transit is Still a Loss

How was your commute yesterday? Odds are, it wasn’t good. Forty-seven percent of February 5th’s peak-hour commuter rail trains (7:00 am to 9:00am and 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm) were late. Your chances of getting to work or home on time were about the same as the Patriots winning the toss and electing to defer. Monthly commuter rail passes range in price from $84.50 to $398.25. Since the cheapest ($84.50) serves region 1A (most of which is already served by MBTA buses and subways), commuters from further away are usually paying for a service they need. There is no subway or bus they can catch to work. Many don’t have the extra $70 it would take for a one-way Uber/Lyft/taxi […]

MBTA Leak Tracker

MBTA Station Leak Tracker

While more than half of the MBTA’s stations are in need of repair, it’s not the MBTA’s highest priority to fix them. The Massachusetts Transportation Secretary has made it clear that the MBTA still prioritizes buying new vehicles and installing new tracks before basic station maintenance. MBTA stations have puddles even during the middle of summer. Mold crawls along damp walls, making it hard for some passengers to breathe. Umbrellas are used indoors during even minor storms, since it’s often raining in […]

Commuter Rail Twitter Reveals History of Delays

An easy way to bond with fellow Bostonians is to complain about commuter rail. While it’s often regarded as unreliable, unexplainable, and unresponsive, a weakness in the transparency of MBTA performance data makes these claims no more than conjecture. True, the agency has made vast improvements in making its operation public in recent years, but there is more work to be done. While State of Service Reports will list miles between failure, ridership statistics, and causes for delays, the MBTA had not release a count of postponements; at least not until corporate social media accountability became the trend, and MBTA Commuter Rail got a Twitter profile. A short computer script downloaded all of the @MBTA_CR profile’s tweets. Their first one, […]

$40 or Freedom: Uncounted Cash in the Legal System

Forty dollars isn’t chump change. It’s about three lunches in Boston financial district, or eight pounds of chicken for a family. For a single-person household at the federal poverty line (which represents 10.4 percent of those in Massachusetts), it’s 17 percent of their weekly income. For almost 6,000 people in 2015, it was the minimum cost of freedom. In Massachusetts, like most states, there’s a long wait time between arrest and trial. This “in jail awaiting trial” period can be as short as a few days, or as long as a year. Nationally, only 4 percent of defendants are denied bail, meaning that for the vast majority of US court cases there’s a price tag on their temporary release. Theoretically […]

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. […]

A Wealth of Data: A Map of the Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic

In 2016, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts was more than double the national average (29.7 compared to 13.3 per 100,000 people). But Massachusetts doesn’t follow the usual trend for its users. Other states (like Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia) struggle hardest in rural communities, where increased availability and social networks make addiction easier. In Massachusetts, however, the opposite is true. Pioneer Institute mapped opioid deaths from 2000 to Quarter 1 of 2018, with data the State released in May 2018.  To see the legend in any of these maps, click the arrow in the upper left-hand corner. View larger map  In these maps, normalized by population, rural Western Massachusetts is actually a cold spot for overdoses, whereas […]

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 […]

Got Milk? The Answer Might Soon Be No in Massachusetts

It’s not a good time to be a dairy farmer in Massachusetts, and it hasn’t been for years. As of 2016, 90 percent of the Commonwealth’s dairy farmers reported enrollment in federal aid programs. Their economic situation became especially critical in 2009, when the recession pushed milk prices to record lows, and farmers sold their product for about half its production cost. Since then Massachusetts’ legislature and federal politicians have supported several other dairy subsidies (including MILC, Dairy-MPP, and DFTC), with no sign of the industry stabilizing. “The situation for dairy farmers is about as bad as it’s been,” Sunderland farmer Bob Williams told the Greenfield Recorder. The Milk Income Contract Loss Program (MILC) was established in 2002 to compensate […]

A Public Transit that Neglects Its Public

Two of a community’s most important hubs are its colleges and hospitals. Higher education keeps a population vibrant and upwardly mobile, while access to health care keeps them well. Pioneer Institute’s municipal website, MassAnalysis, classifies Lowell, Lawrence and New Bedford as peers based on population density and size.  For these cities, each with over 20 percent of their populations living below the poverty line, public transit is a necessity. Yet the doesn’t even offer Sunday service. In Lowell, service to these community hubs is significantly slower than in its peer cities.  On average, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority’s (LRTA’s) service is 1.7 times slower than similar service in Lawrence and 1.2 times slower than in New Bedford. This is because […]

Troop F Gets an A: State Auditor Overlooks DSP Corruption, Neglects Audits

The Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA’s) website describes our current auditor, Suzanne Bump, as “the chief accountability officer for state government in Massachusetts and its residents.” The OSA’s enabling statute requires the department to audit all 700 departments and organizations of the government at least once every three years. Yet in her seven years as auditor, the OSA conducted only one audit of the Department of State Police (DSP), in 2011. When our state government watchdog failed to pick up the scent of DSP’s multiple scandals in Troops E and F, it was left to investigative journalism to enforce state accountability. The OSA Didn’t Audit, So Troop E Ran Unchecked In October 2017, Kathy Curran of WCVB-TV’s “5 Investigates” […]

“Isn’t Everything Online and Free?” The Exclusivity of MA Law Libraries

There are 15 Trial Court Law Libraries in Massachusetts to service the Commonwealth’s 6.8 million residents. Publicly funded, they are a resource on Massachusetts laws for attorneys, judges, and the public. On the libraries’ website under the “What You Need to Know” section, they ask the question: “Isn’t everything online and free?” Their response: no. Regarding the “online” portion of that statement, resources the law library makes digitally available are locked behind a library portal. Unfortunately, a public library card won’t give you access; you need to follow seven steps in person for a card specific to these libraries. They’ll give you a photocopy of your new card so you have your barcode number, and then send the card through […]

Which State Employees Make More than the Boss?

In 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections had 20 employees who were paid more than the commissioner’s salary of $159,645. Among these 20, the median income was $172,491. This highly-paid group accounted for $1.2 million in overtime spending — enough to hire seven more employees at that six-figure median salary.   Pioneer Institute wanted to find out how many Commonwealth departments had employees who earned more than their department head, so we used Pioneer’s transparency platform, MassOpenBooks. In 28 state departments, ranging from the Department of Public Safety to the Appeals Court, we found a clear pattern of employees earning more than the person managing the agency: Apparently, many agency heads opted to pay vast sums of overtime rather than […]

Why Did the Department of Corrections Pay a Chef $166,762 last year?

Pioneer Institute’s MassOpenBooks transparency tool shows an employee listed in the Department of Corrections payroll as a “corrections officer/chef” with an income of $166,762 in 2017. His regular pay was $95,051, with $66,991 in overtime and $4,719 paid as “other”. His regular pay seems to have only been increased to adjust for inflation. His overtime, however, has been increasing exponentially and shifted from 4 percent of his pay in 2004 to 40 percent in 2017.   Whether he’s a chef or a corrections officer, being paid this much in overtime is remarkable. Citizens need to demand more transparency in the disbursement of state funds so we have more than just numbers anytime sums run this high. For example: how well […]

Can State Pensioners Pay for Future Medically Necessary Long-term Care?

At some point many people find themselves needing help to care for themselves. For the elderly, nursing homes provide that help, either temporarily or on a long-term basis.   In 2014, there were 1.4 million individuals in nursing homes nation-wide, with 41,255 of them in Massachusetts. Nursing home residents accounted for 3.7 percent of citizens older than 64, and 13.3 percent of citizens older than 84 years of age. Those numbers will only increase given the Commonwealth’s aging population. While not every retiree will require long-term care, the many who do will likely find the cost to be financially out of reach.   For retired public employees, will their monthly pension checks cover the cost of a nursing home? Pioneer […]

Bill H.2890: Funding More Problems than Solutions

Studies show that 90 percent of the elderly want to live out their days at home. With familiarity sewn into every corner, home feels warm and secure. Moving to a nursing home can be terrifying, replacing the familiar with the unfamiliar and often separating couples because of different needs for care. Many adult children lament moving their parents into a long-term care facility, but all too often in-home care becomes unattainable due to perceived cost, logistics and the amount of care required to keep their parents safe. Which is where House Bill H.2890 comes into play. The proposed legislation aims to increase funding available to licensed nursing homes in a $90 million rate add-on dedicated to MassHealth nursing homes’ employee […]