Sunshine Week 2024

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Partly Sunny with a Chance of Transparency

As Pioneer Institute observes  Sunshine Week , March 10-16, it is worth remembering the uncommon courage it took for our founders to so publicly and transparently declare their political beliefs and loyalties at a time when Great Britain ruled the waves and the American Colonies. The Founders were indeed risking it all — fortune, honor, and indeed their very lives — to establish a system of self-governance that serves as a beacon of hope to the world.

Unfortunately, our early twenty-first-century America — and Massachusetts — is marked by only partial sunshine. Politicians long entrenched in the halls of power would much prefer to eclipse the public’s right to information. 

Massachusetts deserves better. Only by fully honoring the letter and spirit of the laws can we truly claim that moral high ground to which our brave forefathers first lay claim. We call upon the independent-minded people of Massachusetts to join with us in a bipartisan push for greater government transparency.

Calls for Reform in State Government:

The Massachusetts Legislature should be subject to an audit by the State Auditor

As has been the practice for decades, the state legislature bypasses the State Auditor and hires its own firm to perform a review of its books and records. That means the public has limited insight into legislative operations because the audit report itself can be shielded from the public records law, from which the legislature has exempted itself. Pioneer supports State Auditor Diana DiZoglio’s effort to audit the legislature.

Eliminate the governor’s office executive order privilege

Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 1997 ruling in Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council, state officers in Massachusetts have fulfilled public records requests “at their discretion,” reinforcing what is — for the average citizen — one of the nation’s least transparent and most onerous systems for obtaining public records. Unfortunately, Gov. Maura Healey has retreated from vows made early in her administration to be more transparent. Pioneer once again calls upon the governor to live up to her promises and forgo her office’s executive order privilege. There is no better time than Sunshine Week to do exactly that.

The Massachusetts State Legislature must be subject to the state’s public records and open meeting laws

The Massachusetts Legislature continues to exempt itself from the definition of “public body” as it pertains to transparency laws. Pioneer believes that the legislature’s exemptions from public records and open meeting laws violate the state Constitution. Article V of our state’s Declaration of Rights requires that the branches of government “at all times” be accountable to the people. Restricting the public’s access to legislative meetings and records fundamentally undermines that basic right.

Lawmakers should make access to Statements of Financial Interests  anonymous, easier, and available online

Among the 49 states that require Statements of Financial Interests (SFI’s), Massachusetts ranks last in making such information available to the public. SFIs are critical for boosting public confidence that legislators and policymakers are acting in the public interest rather than their own. Massachusetts requires that those seeking access to SFIs provide a photo ID and it reports their identity to the official whose SFI is being requested. Such practices amount to intimidation, serving only to keep financial information hidden from public view. It’s up to the legislature to change the laws on SFI’s.

New Transparency Websites:

Labor Force:  Pioneer released LaborAnalytics, a web tool that tracks workforce and unemployment trends in Massachusetts and the nation. With $2.5 billion in available funding in Massachusetts, this tool is a must for policy makers.

340B Program Transparency:  Pioneer Life Sciences Initiative (PSLI), led by Dr. Bill Smith has focused attention on abuse in the federal 340B contract pharmacy program. Pioneer has created a website to keep the public informed and quantify the volume and geographic distribution of contract pharmacies for each 340B-eligible entity throughout the U.S.

Hospital Pricing:  Pioneer’s Barbara Anthony and Gauri Binoy created a transparency website, the Massachusetts Hospital Relative Price Tracker, that highlights disparities in relative commercial prices among hospitals, with some major institutions charging 25 to 100 percent higher prices compared to the average of all hospitals, despite efforts to control healthcare cost growth in the state.

PioneerLabs: 50 States, 50 Laboratories

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was the first to popularize the phrase that states “are the laboratories of democracy.” Though each state has its own priorities, as expressed through their legislatures, they all share certain overarching goals:

  • Effective, efficient governance
  • Safe communities and a fair justice system
  • A robust economy
  • An excellent education system
  • Safe and functional infrastructure

States that excel in meeting these overarching goals attract and retain residents and investments. They are the foundation for social cohesion and participation in the economy, politics, and a rich cultural life. We are creating one website that will provide transparency on how states are competing in these core service areas. Our audience? Policymakers, the media, advocates and activists, interested citizens, you.

Our Legacy Transparency Sites:

Access our MassWatch transparency tools for a wealth of cutting-edge data organized to enhance understanding of our state economy. And for a link to a wealth of state data resources you can use to learn more about the business of state government, check out our page linking to some of the most useful parts of the website.