Prepare for Town Budget Season with MassWatch

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Online tools to understand your community’s financial condition &  so much more!

Town budget season is upon us. Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis makes it easy to be well-prepared with the right questions to ask!

MassAnalysis is one of Pioneer’s suite of online databases, known as MassWatch, that provide the tools you need to better understand your state and local government. MassAnalysis provides you with historic financial information on your community and allows you to benchmark your town’s performance against its peer communities. The site provides you with information on education, employment, crime, transportation, and demographics that you can use for benchmarking, as well.

For sample questions for municipal departments and budgeting tips, download Pioneer Institute’s Guide to Sound Fiscal Management for Municipalities for free. If you would like a hard copy, please contact us.

Below, read some of the insightful commentary Pioneer has published using data from MassAnalysis and our other MassWatch tools.

A Primer on Secondary Revenue Sources for Local Governments

Using Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis tool, one can find information on how municipal governments raise revenue to fund services. A majority of revenue comes from local taxes – mostly property taxes – but a significant portion comes from transfers from the state and from other governments. On top of taxes and transfers, local governments also finance spending using various fees and fines. While the different types of fees and fines might sound similar, their social and economic merits can vary widely. Read more.

How Much Does Your Local Government Raise From Fines and Forfeitures?

One of the ways local governments raise revenue to fund public services is through fines and forfeitures. That includes everything from speeding tickets or fines for fishing without a license to property seized in a criminal investigation. The latter practice, also known as civil asset forfeiture, has come under fire from both conservative and liberal researchers for several reasons. Police often need minimal evidence to seize property, raising concerns about due process, and it is more difficult for low-income people to challenge an unjust seizure. Read more.

Coastal Towns Charge The Most Permit Fees Per Capita in Massachusetts

One of the ways local governments raise revenue is by requiring permits and licenses for various activities. Occupational licensing laws, which require a series of tests, education, and fees before someone can enter certain professions, are administered at the state level. However, local governments charge permit fees for changes to buildings, new businesses, reviews of historic property, recreational events, and other behaviors. In 2016, Massachusetts municipalities collected just over $362 million in revenue from fees for licenses and permits. Read more.

MassOpenBooks provides information on the salaries of state employees, as well as salaries of workers in quasi-public agencies and higher education institutions. MassOpenBooks also provides information on pensions paid to state employees, and payments from the state to major vendors.

MassOpenBooks: A look inside MassPort 

Every day, thousands of passengers pass through Logan Airport, a facility run by the Massachusetts Port Authority, or MassPort. What many may not realize is that in addition to its state agencies, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts grants public-employee benefits and funding to several large “quasi-public” agencies. MassVentures and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership lead the pack in average employee pay, with $109,958 and $102,245, in 2016, respectively. But MassPort, which also manages Norwood and Hanscom Airports, isn’t far behind at $78,307. Using Pioneer Institute’s MassOpenBooks tool, let’s take a look at MassPort’s finances. Read more.

The State Comptroller’s Office makes available annual salary information for all Massachusetts public employees. Before the state established a website to provide such transparency, Pioneer Institute launched MassOpenBooks, which allows the public to anonymously peruse information regarding state finances, pension funds, contractor payments, and employee salaries. Mass Open Books has information going back to 2004, allowing for easy comparisons over time. Read more.Guess What Massachusetts Public Employee Earns Over $1 Million a Year?

MassPensions provides information on pensions in Massachusetts for both state and local public employees.


MBTA Analysis allows citizens to compare the T’s performance to similar public transit systems around the country.


MuniShare is a clearinghouse for local governments from around the state to upload innovative solutions that have worked in their town to share for other municipalities to learn from.

MBTA Analysis: A look inside the MBTA

The MBTA shuttles over a million passengers a day around Greater Boston on buses, trains, trolleys, subways and ferries. The system is essential for commuters within core metropolitan communities, outer suburbs and even many Gateway Cities. Read more.