Entries by Mary Connaughton

And What About the T’s Retirement Costs?

Pension and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) costs significantly impact the MBTA’s financial position.  There’s been much talk about the T’s retirement costs but relatively little about how those costs and their funding rank among other large transit systems.  The MBTA has not set assets aside to fund OPEB obligations and is underfunding its pension costs. Neither is unusual, but what sets the T is apart is that it is significantly underfunding both. We reviewed each of the following systems’ 2013 audited financial statements to obtain data (not all systems have yet made 2014 statements available) Here’s how the T compares with pension information: *may include multiple pension plans The MBTA is the lowest of the largest transit systems in funding […]

Projections Matter and the MCCA Got it All Wrong

The Boston Business Journal was dead-on when Craig Douglas wrote, “the BCEC’s expansion plan is a case in point for why Massachusetts is in such a financial quagmire today. It’s had virtually no relevant financial vetting. Its cost projections are Big Dig-esque.” His case in point was the recent room-night figures reported in the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority’s annual report.  “In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the BCEC’s slate of events directly generated 264,669 hotel room nights — its second lowest 12-month total since 2007. The Hynes generated another 208,000, or half of what it managed to book in 2001.” Charlie Chieppo, the master of all things Convention Center, put the grim hard numbers into further context in a […]

Time to Fine Keolis

My train was on time this morning, no T-alerts popped into my email and, at long last, I enjoyed an express trip to Boston.  For that, I am delighted. Still, we can’t let the last couple of woeful months on the commuter rail melt away like the snow. MBTA commuter rail trains were late 72 percent of the time during morning rush hours in February, even though a much limited train schedule was implemented during the second half of the month. Delayed and cancelled trains exacted heavy tolls on commuters, employers and families. With near-record snow fall and freezing temperatures, Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the system. Keolis, which operates commuter rail for the T, blamed bad weather for failing signals, switches […]

Pioneer’s Transparency Update: Sunshine Week Edition

To some, it may seem insignificant in that police departments have wide discretion in responding to public records requests, or that a school district can charge exorbitant fees to the public for document requests. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that state agencies routinely respond to public records requests well after the mandated ten days, or that our state legislature exempted itself from sunshine laws. But when you view government transparency through a wider lens, these seemingly minute events or business-as-usual exemptions take on grave collective significance. Our democracy is only as strong as our will to hold government accountable.  Lack of disclosure stunts the public discourse that is essential in a government of the people, by the people and for the people. […]

How is Keolis Fined for Late Commuter Rail Trains?

Your toes are numb, the faces around you sullen and the service alert on your phone says the next train will arrive at a different time than the LED screen overhead.  The train you planned on taking to work broke down and was cancelled.  You’d warm up at the local diner if you knew the next train was delayed by 67 minutes like the LED screen said, but is missing it worth the gamble? Traveling by commuter rail defies predictability these days.   Thankfully, the MBTA toughened the penalty clause enforcement with its contract with Keolis, the new commuter rail operator.  Heavy fines for poor performance have already made headlines.  The fear of further penalties should incentivize better performance. But will […]

Pioneer’s Transparency Update: “Sunshine Week” Edition

While sunshine in government operations should be a 365-day calling, the dedication of this week gives focus to the necessity of transparency in a healthy democracy, the success of which is dependent upon actively engaged citizens. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Truth never damages a cause that is just.”  That statement that should apply to all governments. And that’s why we find it so troubling that our state legislature continues to shield itself from open meeting law, public records law and audits by the duly elected state auditor.  Legislators spend our money and make laws that impact on daily lives. Yet we, whom they represent, remain in the dark Once again during Sunshine Week, we took a look back at Pioneer’s […]

Step it up, UMASS

You’ve come a long way, baby! Or maybe not. It’s been 42 years since President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law. While the legislation was enacted to ban gender discrimination in educational programs, over time it became a game changer for school-based athletic programs. School girls and young college women seized the opportunity to abandon the sidelines and join the game like never before. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, in 1972 only 1 in 27 girls participated in high school sports compared to 2 out of 5 today. Female participation in college sports also grew markedly, increasing by 500%. Athletic excellence became a core value for women across the country. In 1972, the top female runner completed the […]

The Dog Ate DCF’s Report Card

It looks like the besieged folks down at the Division of Children and Families weren’t too happy about having to post their annual performance grades on the Governor’s Mass Results accountability web page this year. They thought they could pull a fast one by leaving off 11 of the 12 annual performance measures they established last year when they posted their self-reported performance evaluation. [quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]Given the horrific series of highly publicized administrative failures at DCF over the past year, Pioneer Institute decided to take a look at what grades the Governor’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services’ gave DCF on its 2013 performance measurements.[/quote] Under the Governor’s Mass Results program, each of his eight Secretaries were required […]

MassDOT’s Cost Savings Dead End

In a joint press release praising the Transportation Reform bill of 2009, House Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray wrote, “the final bill eliminates the Turnpike Authority, streamlines communications, and creates a more efficient and cost-effective system under a unifying agency called the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), potentially saving the Commonwealth up to $6.5 billion during the next 20 years.” Eighteen months later, Governor Patrick down-sized projected savings from $6.5 billion to $2 billion. In its 2010 report, “Transportation Reform – Year 1 – Transportation Finance Commission Scorecard and Cost Saving Summary.” MassDOT’s management wrote, “as we move into year two, MassDOT will continue to seek more savings, efficiencies and continue to reform the way in which we govern […]

When Is a Tax Not a Tax?

When is a tax not a tax? When no one pays it. That’s basically the case with Massachusetts’ voluntary 5.85 percent income tax rate. In 2011, the latest year for which information is available from the Department of Revenue (DOR), a tiny fraction of the 3.5 million tax filers opted to pay the increased rate, generating under $200,000 in additional tax revenue – less than chicken feed compared to a $32.5 billion budget. The number of truly liberal among us who shade the oval to pay an extra 0.6 percent of income to the state is spiraling downward, dropping from 2,727 filers in 2009 to 2,400 in 2010 and to 1,737 in 2011. And it turns out that a hefty […]

Boston Herald op-ed: Legislature must open up on spending

Legislature must open up on spending  Monday, April 1, 2013 By: Mary Z. Connaughton, Adam Campbell Why would the Legislature spend $525 on a tailor, $1,050 on limousine service and $59,000 at WGBH last year? And the numbers get even bigger. How about over $1 million on consulting services, with close to half of that going to five different law firms in 2012? What cases are the attorneys working on? Questions abound when it comes to the Legislature’s spending. Thanks to Massachusetts’ Public Records Law, the public can get almost unlimited information, including detailed vendor invoices, from the government. That’s exactly what should happen in a government of, by and for the people. The law even requires a speedy response — […]

What would you do with a half-billion dollars?

The next time you’re watching those dollars ring up at the pump, think about this: for every gallon you pump, the federal government gets 18.4 cents and the state government gets 21 cents for gasoline taxes. Did you know you’re also taxed another 2.5 cents per gallon to reimburse costs related to underground storage tank removal? Based on the state’s own estimate, that 2.5 cents translates to about $75 million per year.  With the 2.5 cent tax in place for the last 10 years, that’s about $750 million collected. The department of revenue claims that only about $209 million of the tax collected so far went towards clean-up. Is the difference a blank check for the State House? If so, […]

Pioneer’s Transparency Update: “Sunshine Week” Edition

With all the scandals that plague the Massachusetts State House, you would think the state legislature would scream reform after getting an “F” as its latest transparency grade from the Sunlight Foundation. Like the Sunlight Foundation, Pioneer Institute has long-promoted better public access to happenings under the Golden Dome, but a heap of work is still needed to disperse the fog that lingers. So this Sunshine Week, as we reflect on how the lack transparency fosters public mistrust, let’s look back at Pioneer’s transparency work since Sunshine Week 2012.   What “ethics” reform?   Pioneer attempted to calculate the amount of contributions made to legislators by lobbyists who had a stake in the healthcare cost-containment legislation passed in 2012.  Conclusion: Sadly, the information on […]

Internships and Research Assistantships

Learn about Pioneer’s Internships and Research Assistantships! Students and young professionals from a wide variety of academic backgrounds have already been taking advantage of the career opportunities we provide year-round. Select candidates can join us in one of two roles – as interns or as research assistants.