Entries by Michael Weiner

Green Line Extension gets approval from Feds, but is this really the end of the headache?

The proposal to extend the MBTA’s Green Line from Lechmere into Somerville and Medford, which has been beset by obstacles at seemingly every turn, has finally taken an important step forward.  Part of an environmental mitigation commitment connected to the Big Dig, the Green Line Extension (GLX) initiative appeared to have been in serious jeopardy after construction delays continued to occur and cost estimates continued to balloon out of control.  Lawsuits and criticism regarding over-paid and possibly incompetent consultants threatened to torpedo the project before it could ever get going. New President Donald Trump has made cost-cutting a priority, so it seemed safe to assume that federal funding would be hard to come by for a project that would seem […]

Fixing the MBTA Retirement Fund: Reforming a Pension Fund in Crisis

This report examines the MBTA Retirement Fund’s unfunded liability and compares MBTA and state employee and employer retirement contributions. It recommends that the MBTA assess the feasibility of moving its employees out of the Social Security system and transfer investment management responsibility for its pension fund to the commonwealth’s Pension Reserves Investment Management board as initial steps toward terminating the MBTA Retirement Fund (MBTARF).

Transparency in Retail Drug Prices: Easy to Obtain but Accuracy May Be Doubtful

This paper is the fourth in a series on price transparency in the healthcare industry, and the first Pioneer report to focus on the retail price of prescription medications. Researchers called 44 retail drug stores across the state asking for the price of a 30-day supply of each drug in a common dosage. In each case the callers said they were self-pay and pressed the drug store for information about discounts.

Lessons Learned during Summer Travels: BRT in Curitiba, Brazil

Boston is a city with rich history, vibrant cultural traditions, influential and prestigious academic institutions, and wildly successful sports teams.  It is a city with much to be proud of.  However, it is also a city with much to improve upon, but some models for improvement lie in cities with vastly different attributes. Take, for example, Curitiba, in southern Brazil.  The city of nearly 2 million inhabitants has been internationally recognized as a beacon of sustainability for a host of reasons, including its wealth of green spaces, pedestrian-friendly areas and notably, its groundbreaking mass transit initiatives. Curitiba is lauded as the birthplace of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  Introduced in the city beginning in 1974 by innovative Mayor Jaime Lerner, who […]

Addressing Inequality through K-12 Education in Boston

According to a new Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) study cited by The Boston Globe, nearly half of Boston residents make under $35,000 per year. These findings, coupled with a January Brookings Institution report ranking Boston number one nationally in income inequality, paint a worrisome picture of the city.  Sadly, many of those left behind in the midst of Boston’s economic boom are low-income minorities. The underlying issue is that Boston’s schools have not successfully promoted educational opportunity and economic mobility for many of its students. And Boston Public Schools have a particularly high bar to meet because, as the Globe notes, 40 percent of jobs in Massachusetts require a bachelor’s degree compared to 27 percent nationally. Inequality in K-12 education […]

The Real Source of UMass R&D Spending

UMass issued a report and a press release Tuesday citing a record level of research and development spending at UMass in fiscal year 2015. “Despite the tightening of the funding environment, the University of Massachusetts saw sponsored research increase by 4.3 percent during the past year, reaching a record $629 million, President Marty Meehan announced today.” What might not be immediately evident from the UMass announcement is that all of the 4.3 percent increase in UMass R&D spending in FY2015 was attributable to funding provided by the state and UMass itself, which amounted to an increase of $26.5 million, a 14 percent increase from 2014 to 2015.  Externally-funded research, from federal, business, nonprofit, other sources, actually declined by $670,000 from […]

What the Brian Joyce Saga Says about Government Transparency in Massachusetts

One state senator’s dirty laundry may be catching up with him. Pioneer Institute previously covered the troubles facing former Senate Assistant Majority Leader Brian Joyce, after he faced scrutiny over allegedly using the status of his office to receive free dry cleaning services and designer sunglasses, among other possible ethical lapses. Last week, his Canton law office was raided by the FBI and IRS as part of a criminal investigation. Things are not looking good for the senator from the Norfolk, Bristol, & Plymouth district. Senator Joyce’s colleagues, led by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, are rightfully going to let the investigation run its course before taking any action against Joyce. No charges have been filed against him. Criminal investigation aside, […]

Thoughts on Transparency: Full Disclosure of Gasoline Taxes

One of Pioneer Institute’s ongoing goals is to promote government transparency in the state. With the 2015 release of Agenda for Leadership, Pioneer’s James Stergios and Mary Connaughton put forth a comprehensive plan to increase the economic freedom and mobility of Massachusetts citizens.  To do so, transparency plays a crucial role.  After all, citizen engagement is the very heart of a healthy democracy. One of the ideas in Agenda for Leadership concerns the disclosure of motor vehicle fuel taxes. Information on state fuel taxes is available online (the Mass. DOR website publishes the information, and the American Petroleum Institute website has state-by-state information as well), but the vast majority of residents may not be aware of the extent of these […]

Comparing Retirement Benefits for MBTA and other State Employees

Pioneer’s latest report, A $49 Million Sweetheart Deal: How MBTA Employee Unused Sick Perk Enhances Pensions, illustrates how MBTA employees are taking advantage of a 1975 arbitrator’s decision to reap substantial retirement benefits through their unused sick days. The report further illuminates the incredible sums of money being spent at the MBTA on salaries and benefits compared with other state agencies and Massachusetts municipalities, bringing more attention to the fiscal mismanagement taking place at the MBTA. Additional data analysis done by Pioneer’s Greg Sullivan using data from the National Transit Database (NTD) shows just how much better pensions can be for MBTA employees.  Comparing retirement benefits for both MBTA and regular state employees given equal salaries and equal numbers of […]

Report Ranks Boston No. 1 in Income Inequality: What Does It Mean?

A report published last week by the Brookings Institution ranked Boston number one, but not in a good way. The report gave Boston the ignominious title of having the nation’s worst income inequality, according to its 95/20 ratio (the difference in income between households in the 95th percentile and those in the 20th). Boston placed just above New Orleans, Atlanta and Cincinnati.  New England counterparts New Haven and Providence were also included near the top of the inequality rankings. So inequality in Boston is high, but how much does this matter? Boston’s inequality ranking is troubling, but context is important here. For example, the Brookings report acknowledged that Boston’s ranking is at least in part due to its unusually large […]

Airing the State’s Dirty Laundry: New Findings Raise Questions Regarding Ethics and Transparency

More dirty laundry is coming to the surface in the Massachusetts state legislature.  The Boston Globe reported earlier this week that former senate assistant majority leader Brian Joyce, already in hot water after buying designer sunglasses at a massive discount for all of his senate colleagues last January, spent over a decade taking advantage of free services at a dry cleaning shop in Randolph—potentially an ethics violation because state employees are barred from accepting any benefits worth more than $50 per year, according to the State Ethics Commission.  Governor Baker called for an investigation. These findings not only paint a dark picture of Senator Joyce, but also raise the question of how other dirty laundry at the legislature is managed. Dry cleaning costs […]