Entries by Mary Connaughton

A Practically 100% Guaranteed Free Ride

The House wants to transfer $314 million to the MBTA for operations and the governor wants to transfer $254 million. Perhaps those numbers could be made a bit smaller if the MBTA and Keolis do their job: collect fares. Let me hedge. My comments are based on what I observe. I take an express train to Boston three times a week from Framingham. For the most part, fares for Framingham riders are collected. They are for those boarding in West Natick, too. But after the train crosses into Boston, fare collection seems to simply stop. Boston Landing, Lansdowne and Back Bay riders all travel for free as the train ventures east. On the return trip, from what I see, it’s […]

Public Comment on Allston Multimodal Project

We remain pleased with the decision of MassDOT to concentrate its efforts on the all at-grade option for the throat area of the Allston Multimodal Project as recommend by Pioneer Institute and others. However, we are deeply concerned that the construction will negatively impact commuters coming into Boston from points west.

Public Comment on I-90 Allston Multimodal Project

Last year, Pioneer Institute proposed that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)  revise its Scoping Report on the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project and recommend an additional option – a modified at-grade option for the throat area – to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  The Institute believed then and continues to believe that an all at-grade design will shorten construction time, lower costs, create fewer negative economic and congestion impacts, and improve neighborhood access to parkland along the Charles River.

Open Letter: COVID-19 Study and Recommendations Task Force established pursuant to Massachusetts Bill H.4672

Recently, Governor Baker signed legislation, H. 4672, that would create a Covid-19 task force, appointed by the legislature,  to study and make recommendations to the general court that address health disparities among certain populations based on certain characteristics, including age, and which also asks the future task force to recommend other impacted populations for further study.  Pioneer has prepared a public letter to that future task force that contains a list of specific recommendations regarding Covid-19 and the state’s nursing homes. 

In The Era Of COVID-19, Mass. Needs To Get Long-Term Care Right

This op-ed originally appeared in WGBH News. In much of the country, a substantial number of Covid-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. Too many states were caught unaware that crowding, poor infection control, insufficient isolation facilities, and lack of proper training and equipment for nursing home workers would create petri dishes for Covid’s destruction. As of now, this lack of preparation accounts for 24,000, or over one-third, of Covid-related deaths nationally. We saw what was happening in Italy, where frontline doctors were forced to make age-based life and death decisions because so many elderly people were sick and ventilators were in short supply. We saw the first signs of the virus on our own shores in Washington state nursing […]

Transparency Needed at Long-term Care Facilities

The anxiety of having a parent in a nursing home under the constant threat of Covid-19 has to be debilitating. Residents, many with dementia, who had grown accustomed to their children’s regular visits must be in a state of increased confusion and despair in their isolation. The decision to move a parent into a home is beyond difficult. In the end, though, the decision comes down to basic safety. Are they safer at their own home, living with you when you cannot be there around the clock – or in a facility? Ultimately, it comes down to limiting risks, which often means assisted living, skilled nursing or rest homes. The decision is made to protect with professional care. But the […]

Public Comment on MassDOT’s I-90 Allston Multimodal Project National Environmental Policy Act Review Scoping Report

Pioneer Institute’s Public Comment calls on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to revise its Scoping Report on the I-90 Allston Multimodal Project and recommend an additional option to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The Institute believes that closer analysis of an at-grade option may reveal that an at-grade design will shorten construction time, lower costs, create fewer negative economic and congestion impacts, and improve neighborhood access to parkland along the Charles River.

An easy transportation fix? Commuter benefits

This op-ed appeared in The Boston Business Journal on October 29, 2019. By Robert Dawson and Mary Connaughton MassDOT’s recent report, Congestion in the Commonwealth 2019, found what millions of commuters already know: Massachusetts has reached a tipping point. Congestion is no longer just a transportation issue; it has become a quality-of-life and economic problem as well. There are a number of ways to address the problem, but one approach that has proven successful is to prioritize encouraging employers located close to a mass transit station to provide their employees with an incentive to leave their cars at home. Since 2013, peak-period travel times have grown. By 6 a.m., a quarter of roadway miles inside the I-95/Route 128 beltway are congested […]

The Mass. Pike is in for some massive disruption. Are we ready?

The Boston Globe By Mary Connaughton and Jim Aloisi May 31, 2019 Beginning this summer, commuters are in for longer rides as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation prepares to extend the Prudential tunnel under parts of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street to make way for an air-rights real estate development. Extending the tunnel involves upgrading and expanding ventilation systems — fans, controls and other electrical components — as well as installing piles and set beams to support a deck. These activities require Massachusetts Turnpike lane closures, both temporary and long-term, to create work areas. And with work areas come speed reductions to ensure worker safety over the estimated 16-month project. The project will, inescapably, worsen traffic conditions on a stretch […]

Mass Pike rebuild shouldn’t impact Worcester commuters, but it will

This op-ed originally appeared in The Worcester Telegram & Gazette May 3, 2019 The sleeping giant of MetroWest and Worcester commuters is about to be stirred, thanks to an ill-conceived plan by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation that would severely impact their daily rides to and from Boston. As part of the plan to straighten the Mass Pike in Allston, the elevated portion of road known as the Boston University viaduct will be demolished and the roadway rebuilt at-grade. The abutting Soldiers Field Road and the nearby Paul Dudley White Bike Path will also be affected. The project is estimated to begin sometime after the summer of 2021 and completed in 8-10 years, but we know what can happen to […]

True Transparency Needed for SFI’s

Pioneer has long called for the Statements of Financial Interests (SFIs) that elected officials and political candidates are required to file to be available online.  The State Ethics Commission must have been listening to us and other transparency enthusiasts that called on the Commonwealth to catch up to the times. While the forms can now be accessed online, there is still much to do to improve public access to these most important documents. Transparency is the most fundamental tool a democracy has to ensure that its stewards have the public interest at heart, rather than their own self-interest.  We have seen far too many breaches of ethics in recent years on Beacon Hill and one way to prevent them is […]

Love It When the T Listens!

It seems MBTA officials were listening to this March segment of Bloomberg Radio’s Bay State Business. During the program, I was discussing simple ways to increase MBTA revenue without imposing an across-the-board fare hike. Raising fares may make sense in some scenarios, but where there is excess capacity, increasing ridership is a far more effective solution to reduce operating deficits.  You don’t jack up the prices of a product that isn’t selling. The example I presented was weekend commuter rail fares.  My family of four, which includes two teenage boys, would pay a total of $78 for the round trip between Boston and Framingham on a Saturday.  That’s $9.50 each way for all four of us plus $4 for parking.  […]

Top 10 Government Transparency Resolutions for 2018

We hear the word transparency a lot these days. Whether it’s the public demanding it or public figures claiming to embody it, transparency is rightly viewed as an admirable pursuit. When it comes to government, transparency fosters civic engagement and promotes public trust. Openness in government is the cornerstone of a healthy, vibrant democracy. In 2016, Beacon Hill took some steps to promote transparency with public records law reform, but fell short of what Pioneer had hoped for. The Commonwealth continues to advance in terms of spending transparency and, as Pioneer reported, Massachusetts municipalities were more transparent than their national peers when it came to disclosing the details of their bids for Amazon’s second headquarters – kudos to them! There was […]

Beacon Hill Needs to Get This Right – Right Now

No one said it better than Justice Louis Brandeis. “Sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.”  If today’s story on former State Senator Brian Joyce, indicted today for allegedly collecting about $1 million in bribes and kickbacks, isn’t a wake-up call for the legislators to fix the sad state of government transparency in Massachusetts, they will forever remain in a state of blissful slumber. Pioneer Institute has been a leading voice for open and accountable government in Massachusetts. Statements of Financial Interest, or SFIs for short, are a cornerstone of political ethics: All state and county officials, as well as political candidates, are required to annually disclose their private business associations and […]

Understanding the Downgrade

S&P Global Ratings (S&P) recently downgraded Commonwealth and certain other Massachusetts agency bond ratings one notch from AA+ to AA. The AA rating is still considered a high mark in terms of the investment grade of the bonds, meaning S&P believes the state will meet its debt obligations.  While it is fair to say that the downgrade is not a calamity, it is certainly a warning signal as to what could happen should the state continue practices that do not lead to long-term fiscal health.  It’s a reality check to which we should pay close attention. As shown in Figure 1, the state’s S&P rating on Massachusetts bonds is still well above 2001 levels and is now at the same […]

Closing Catholic Schools in Massachusetts Can Be Avoided

The Archdiocese of Boston recently announced that after operating for 93 years, the Saint Clement School in Medford will be closing its doors at the end of this school year due to a persistent decline in enrollment.  That means a multitude of students who believed they would be following the thousands before them as Saint Clement’s graduates will instead be tearfully giving up the maroon for colors unknown. Saint Clement High School is part of the Central Catholic League and I’ve enjoyed watching the players compete against my son’s school, Marian High School, in Framingham.  The school’s closing hits close to home. Saint Clement’s closing does not represent an isolated example.  Enrollment in Boston Archdiocese schools has dropped 21 percent […]

Op-ed: Neglect creates pension tsunami

A version of this op-ed appeared in The Berkshire Eagle, The Salem News, The Gloucester Times, the Patriot Ledger, The Brockton Enterprise, and The New Bedford Standard-Times. BOSTON — Moody’s Investors Service estimates that total U.S. state and local government pension unfunded liability will reach $1.75 trillion this year and the commonwealth is hardly immune from this alarming trend. The Massachusetts Teachers Pension Fund pays out over $2.6 billion in annual benefits and has barely half the money it needs to meet its long-term obligations. Many of the commonwealth’s more than 100 local pension systems are in a similar condition. This isn’t just a nightmare for the commonwealth, local governments and state taxpayers; more than 10 percent of all adults […]

Sunshine Week 2017: Highlights from Pioneer’s Government Transparency Team

It’s Sunshine Week once again! While it may fall close to spring break, it means something even better than Coppertone and Daytona Beach. Each year during Sunshine Week, Pioneer reviews the government transparency work it has completed through the year to highlight efforts to bring greater public accountability to Massachusetts. Our objective is to have the Commonwealth rank among the nation’s most transparent states; while there has been progress when it comes to bringing sunshine to Beacon Hill, we still have an uphill climb. So put your sandals away, get a cup of hot coffee, and take a look at some of Pioneer’s highlights: So you leave the doctor’s office, prescription in hand, and you want to take it to […]

The Clock is Ticking…….

The clock is ticking towards December 30, 2017.  As part of the 2016 public records reform legislation, An Act to Improve Public Records, a special legislative committee was established to “examine the accessibility of information concerning the legislative process of the general court and the expansion of the definition of public records.” The establishment of the committee is a win for government transparency advocates. The committee, made of members of the legislature, can solicit input from journalists, public policy research groups and other individuals interested in the process. One of the specific missions of the committee is to determine the constitutionality of subjecting the Governor’s Office, the legislature and the judiciary to public records laws.  The law, as presently written, […]