Entries by Liam Day

Always double down on 11

That is, of course, unless the dealer is showing a face card. There seem to be four, and as far as I can tell only four, newsworthy stories in the Commonwealth these days: the Patriot’s spy scandal, ’78 redux, higher tolls and gas taxes, and (can’t you just hear the incessant tingling of the slot machines) casino gambling. In the spirit of the press’ focus, we have devoted the entire Mass Media list on the homepage today to coverage of the Governor’s casino proposal, including editorial reaction from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Springfield Republican and South Coast Today. Tomorrow’s focus will be tolls and gas taxes. In the interim, if the dealer’s showing a 6 and you’re sitting on […]

Shameless Plug

Actually, this is more a vain attempt to bring attention to a new Pioneer website feature, what we call Mass Media, a daily compilation of articles from newspapers across the Commonwealth. In the wake of today’s Boston Globe headline, I’d like to offer a quick thought on casino gambling. I should disclose at the outset that Pioneer has not studied the issue and, therefore, has no institutional position on the prospect of legalized casino gambling in the Commonwealth. Neither have I, personally, staked out a position on the issue. I admit to a certain trepidation regarding it, but that does not mean the potential benefits to the state wouldn’t outweigh the costs. Besides, I don’t believe government’s role should include […]

Do we know how to pick ’em?

From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: The Devens boom, an editorial extolling the recent announcement by Evergreen Solar they are building a $165 million dollar facility on the former army base. One of the deciding factors appears to have been (fanfare, please) “a streamlined permitting process.” Not to toot our horn, but we anticipated this. The Unified Permitting System for the Redevelopment of Fort Devens was, in fact, the winner of this year’s Better Government Competition. Apparently, foresight is 20/20.

So long, Mrs. Whatsit

I apologize. I have been absent from the blogosphere for over a week now. I’m back, though, and because, with the release of preliminary MCAS scores, those dreaded buzz words – standards and accountability – have been all over the press, I want to weigh in on them. Before I do, however, I would like to point out that the generally good news about the preliminary MCAS scores coincided this week with a bit of bad news – the passing of author Madeleine L’Engle, who is probably best known for her adolescent classic A Wrinkle in Time. Her death was brought to my attention by Jeff Jacoby’s column in Wednesday’s Globe. Upon learning from Jeff that Ms. L’Engle had died, […]

As if reading my mind. . .

The Boston Globe led today with Property tax bills soar as services fall. According to the story’s author, Matt Carroll, the average annual property tax bill for a single-family home in Massachusetts has climbed 50% in just the last seven years. To make it worse, the increases are not used to expand services, but go instead toward fixed costs – pension and other post-employment benefits for retired and retiring public workers, particularly healthcare, whose costs are quickly escalating beyond the ability of cities and towns to pay for them. Is it any wonder that voters, already facing such large increases on their tax bills, are casting an increasingly jaundiced eye on Prop 2 1/2 overrides? (See my post on Dartmouth’s […]

I’ve seen the lights go down on Dartmouth

It’s been a long summer in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. In a story that hasn’t been getting much play inside 128 (We have a south coast? Who knew?), but has all the elements of good drama (conflict and tragedy anyway), town administrators and residents have struggled for the better part of four months with a projected 2008 fiscal deficit of some $5 million. An irresolute climax was reached a month ago when the town’s residents narrowly voted down a Prop 2 1/2 override. Now, in a move that has about it just a hint of the hairshirt, town administrators have decided to shut off streetlights on secondary roads to save an estimated $114,000. This latest budget cut is merely symbolic, designed, I’d […]

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. . .

We’re always gratified when our work appears on Blue Mass Group. So, of course we read with interest today’s post comparing our report on the Longfellow Bridge with an article on infrastructure maintenance recently published in The New Republic. It was, however, not the post itself, but, rather, the comment string that caught my attention (and, I should say, the attention of my colleauges). The first comment reads, in part: We should demonstrate our commitment to rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure by fixing the Longfellow bridge ourselves. Wouldn’t that be cool of we spent some of the money we raise to fixing the brdge. We could make a picnic out of it and start working like busy little bees to fix […]

I wholeheartedly agree. . .

. . . with Sally Dias, Vice President at Emmanuel College and member of a state task force assigned to examine why Black and Hispanic applicants lag behind white applicants on Massachusetts’ teacher licensing exams. She was quoted in today’s Boston Globe, “One test should really not be a determinant of someone’s career.” Ms. Dias is absolutely correct. It’s patently unfair to make teachers pass a licensing exam when no other profession is required to pass a similar test. I mean, doctors don’t have to. No, wait, they have to pass their boards. Okay, so they’re the exception. No, wait again, lawyers have to pass the bar exam. Okay, so two exceptions. Nurses? No, registered nurses have their board examinations. […]

OK, today’s sign of a cultural apocalypse

This one gleaned from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Friday Facts, which, though decidedly ideological, are often hysterical. It seems the American Council of Trustees and Alumni conducted a survey of 70 colleges, of which just 15 require their English majors – not their general student populations, mind you, but their English majors – to take at least one course on Shakespeare. Again, I have to ask, Shakespeare? Really? Not Dreiser, Booth Tarkington, Sinclair Lewis or Upton Sinclair (Yes, I have a thing against early 20th-century American realism), but Shakespeare, the apogee of Western Culture and the English language. Now, the literary canon needed to be broken open and made more inclusive, but please tell me there is a place, […]

Only 7 percent? Really?

According to today’s Springfield Republican, just 7% of American adults can name the first four Presidents in order. Not 17%. Not 70%. That’s right, 7%. And not all of the Presidents in order, just the first four, who among other things, drafted the Declaration of Independence, led a military campaign to insure that independence, drafted Massachusetts’ Constitution, which was one of the bases of the United States Constitution, and, finally, composed the Bill of Rights. Now, this has only tangentially to do with Pioneer’s current focus, but my predecessors at the Institute did, once upon a time, publish a report on the state of Civic Education in Massachusetts. Even if they hadn’t, can I just say: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and […]

Pioneer has a new Home Page

In our continuing effort to bring more and more information to you, our online readers, we have just unveiled our new home page. New features include Mass Media – links to articles of note in local media outlets, both those that reference Pioneer and those that do not (We are aware, sometimes painfully, that it is not a Pioneercentric universe.); direct links to our research centers, including their snazzy new logos; and our rotating quotes feature – each time you return to the home page you should see a different quote from such disparate sources as Frederick Douglass, F.A. Hayek and the Massachusetts Constitution. And, if you’ve been to our website recently, you may have noticed the donate button, not […]

Thoughts on the State Budget

The final 2008 state budget came out of committee and was signed by Governor Patrick a little over a week ago. Below is our partial response, composed by another of the extraordinary Pioneer interns, Lincoln Rathnam. (Again, though I would like to take credit, I can’t.): “The Massachusetts state budget for 2008 is praiseworthy in several respects but also gives us cause for serious concern. In May Pioneer called on the legislature to reject the governor’s proposed addition of $500 million in taxes and fees and to work towards a solution to the state’s public employee pension and retiree health care liabilities. The new budget begins to fund those liabilities. Citizens of Massachusetts can also be thankful that the legislature […]

Congrats to Steve Poftak

To those of you in the blogosphere who miss the witty and sometimes irreverent posts of our research director, Steve Poftak: Steve has been blog-silent for good reason. He and his wife are celebrating the birth of their second child. All of us at Pioneer wish Steve and his family the best, even as we miss his wit and banter around the office.

A Path to Solvency for the DCR?

Though I have been unable to leave the BGC behind (it really was that good an event), I cannot take credit for the following post. It comes from one of our summer interns, Katharine Sheehan, a senior year BC: “The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), runner-up at the BGC, has transformed its operations in just a matter of years and cut operating costs while increasing usership and revenues. As a result, the NVRPA is now a self-sufficient agency, producing enough revenue that it no longer relies on state and local funding. The key to its success is simple: the NVRPA reinvented itself by implementing a market-focused strategy. Here in Massachusetts, the DCR, which oversees the state park system, has […]

Whom would you like to address the BGC dinner next year?

Now that it’s all said and done, we at Pioneer have a moment to reflect on the BGC. Though admittedly biased, we do believe it was a great success: 280 contest entries, 360 awards dinner guests, and 2 very fine speeches, delivered by Springfield (MA) Mayor Charlie Ryan and Governor Deval Patrick. (As an aside, our condolences to Springfield on losing out to Springfield, Vermont in the contest to host the world premiere of the upcoming Simpson’s movie. A red carpet in Vermont? Who would’ve thunk it?) Looking to the future, we have already started kicking around the office names of people we would like to invite to be next year’s guest speaker. As some people expressed, shall we say, […]

Governor Patrick is a Capitalist after all

We were worried. During his first 6 months in office the Governor had unveiled a number of new initiatives that appear on the shelf, anyway, as if they will have expensive price tags: $1 billion in BioTech funding, the $1.4 billion rail line to New Bedford, and K through post-12 education reforms which some critics claim will cost as much as $2 billion annually. These on top of outstanding liabilities that add up to almost double the Commonwealth’s annual budget: $14.488 billion for public employee pensions, $13 billion for public employee healthcare obligations, and roughly $17 billion for maintaining public assets that have too long been ignored. Of course, the question is: how do we pay for all of this? […]

Please, sir, I want some more.

In case you no longer listen to the radio, the Massachusetts Teachers Association last month launched a new ad campaign in which the voices of six students are heard asking for support for public education – from their parents, their communities and their government. As a former public school teacher, this ad annoys me for two reasons. 1) It reminds me yet again of the frustration I felt as a teacher that, though it was bad enough my salary was pittance because so much of school budgets are wasted, my take home pay was just that little bit smaller because I was required, without consent, to pay union dues that went to prop up a second bloated bureacracy and air […]

If you can make it there. . .

Tom Menino has been mayor of Boston for roughly 14 years now. During that time he has provided sturdy leadership and, whatever else can be said of him, he has at least wanted the job to which he was elected (more than can be said for a number of our ex-governors and even Mr. Menino’s two predecessors). Nevertheless, I need to express some dissatisfaction. Sturdy just isn’t enough, not after 14 years. If the mayor chooses to maintain the sturdy course, his legacy will be very tepid indeed. He has twice been reelected by margins greater than 40 percentage points and, though there are a number of viable mayoral candidates waiting in the wings, the choice to remain mayor after […]

BGC – a forum for ideas

Pioneer has already received a great deal of interest in its upcoming Better Government Competition awards dinner. Since announcing just Friday that Governor Patrick would be the featured speaker and that Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had been invited and tentatively accepted an invitation to offer prefatory remarks, I have received quite a number of phone calls and e-mails. The majority have been requests for tickets (which have not yet gone on sale), but some have been – well, let’s just say the word traitor came up more than once. In light of this constructive feedback, I thought it worth reminding people that Pioneer Institute is a non-partisan think tank. We are uninterested in the success or failure of any […]

Will Massachusetts’ economic recovery be short-lived?

Good news, everyone. According to today’s Boston Globe, Massachusetts’ economy is growing again – and at almost 4 times the rate as that of the national economy. But, a note of caution. Massachusetts’ economic growth is imperiled by – surprise, surprise – the state’s high cost of housing. As tech companies expand, they require young, highly educated workers, precisely the demographic that has shown an aversion in recent years to settling down in old, cold and expensive Massachusetts. In a macro sense, the solution to Massachusetts’ high housing costs is a fairly straightforward one: increase the supply of housing to meet demand. The question is: does the political will exist in Massachusetts to overcome the entirely rational, though somewhat shortsighted […]

The Winter Moth

As winter turns to spring, or the day of it, anyway, we can expect before summer arrives, I would like to turn my attention to nature. The winter moth was introduced to North America from Europe and has now spread over much of the northeastern United States and Canada. Like the gypsy moth, the winter moth loves to eat trees, but not just shade trees. No, the winter moth likes fruit too, particularly, I understand, apples and crabapples. Now this may not seem like all that big a deal. Unless, of course, you own or work in an orchard and depend on apples for your living. I suppose then it would be a very big deal. The reason I bring […]

Earmarks and Elections

As a young man I always marvelled that the day for filing my taxes was as far as can be on a calendar from election day. Whatever politician dreamt that up is a genius. But taxes aren’t the only things located around the other side of the electoral mountain. Earmarks are a way our representatives acquire state aid for their districts. Some of this aid is needed; some of it – well, not so much. And none of it is handed to localities as a block grant, which would give cities and towns the flexibility to spend it on what they think they need. No, that money must be spent on what it has been written into law that it […]