THE PIONEER BLOG

Spend first, ask questions later…it worked for the Big Dig, right?

Today’s Globe offers another salvo in an ongoing barrage of education news from the Administration. The story uses a thousand words to describe how the Governor “appears to be laying the groundwork” to reduce the local property tax burden. Don’t get bogged down; the story’s gist is shorter than its URL: State government will spend more on education. Okay. Onward and upward is always front-page news. The real “groundwork,” though, tends to get buried like a tunnel under Fort Point Channel. The State House News Service (reg. required) exposes an intention to “destroy” the state Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA), and here’s why: “‘It just needs to thoroughly be reconstituted,’ said Glenn Koocher, MASC executive director, comparing getting […]

Which way to a greater Boston region?

The indispensable Amy Dain reports from the provinces: Today the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) released its recommendations for the future growth of the region. Its goals for increased housing choice are right on. Implementation will be no easy task, though. A recent report from Pioneer and Rappaport Institutes has shown that the current system of housing regulation does not allow for many needed types of housing to be built. To learn more about your community’s regulations, look here. The MAPC plan calls for new apartments, townhouses, and condos near town centers, as well as more modest single-family houses for people who either cannot afford or do not need McMansions. The plan estimates that over half of the new moderately […]

Strategic Planning? We don’t need no stinkin’ planning.

Our friend and Pioneer Board Member, Professor Joe Giglio has a new book on transportation — Driving Questions: Developing A National Transportation Vision, following up on his December 2005 release, Mobility. Professor Giglio’s new book seeks to rise above the hurly-burly of the transportation debate (which he, quite correctly we might add, views as overly focused on tactical matters) and restart the conversation on a strategic level. He begins by asking the following four questions: · What should the nation’s transportation system look like in the future? · What options do we have for transforming the existing system to match this vision? · What resources are available to implement these options? · How do we measure our success in making […]

BGC – a forum for ideas

Pioneer has already received a great deal of interest in its upcoming Better Government Competition awards dinner. Since announcing just Friday that Governor Patrick would be the featured speaker and that Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had been invited and tentatively accepted an invitation to offer prefatory remarks, I have received quite a number of phone calls and e-mails. The majority have been requests for tickets (which have not yet gone on sale), but some have been – well, let’s just say the word traitor came up more than once. In light of this constructive feedback, I thought it worth reminding people that Pioneer Institute is a non-partisan think tank. We are uninterested in the success or failure of any […]

Yummm, 10:16 Lunch…….

The Globe Magazine has a fascinating piece on the extended school day experiment being conducted at 10 schools around the state.  It seems like such a common-sense good idea that we can only assume it will be discarded very soon. The most gripping piece of information, to this reader, was an accompanying graphic (that unhelpfully does not show up on-line) that details the change in the average school day. Before, students started the day 7:25 AM, ate lunch at 10:16 AM, and were dismissed at 1:30 PM. Plus, the sample schedule displayed allows for daily math, science, and english classes, but little else. The new schedule has the same start time and lunch time (which is still ridiculous), but adds […]

Out of the Mouths of Grad Students

Today’s Globe has two interesting articles (one unintentionally so) on our state college system. A front page article talks about growing demand from the UMASS-Boston Student Senate to build dorms, and a Derrick Jackson op-ed is a predictable call for more funding. But at the very, very end of the op-ed, a lengthy quote from a student highlights one of our major problems as a system (and one of the reasons that funding is such an issue): It feels like the flagships like Amherst are treating students more and more as consumers, trying harder to attract wealthier out-of-state students with sushi nights, lobster nights, and flat-screened TVs in lounges than figuring out how to help students who are the most […]

Will Massachusetts’ economic recovery be short-lived?

Good news, everyone. According to today’s Boston Globe, Massachusetts’ economy is growing again – and at almost 4 times the rate as that of the national economy. But, a note of caution. Massachusetts’ economic growth is imperiled by – surprise, surprise – the state’s high cost of housing. As tech companies expand, they require young, highly educated workers, precisely the demographic that has shown an aversion in recent years to settling down in old, cold and expensive Massachusetts. In a macro sense, the solution to Massachusetts’ high housing costs is a fairly straightforward one: increase the supply of housing to meet demand. The question is: does the political will exist in Massachusetts to overcome the entirely rational, though somewhat shortsighted […]

Wacky Pension Hijinks, Pt. 2?

This morning’s Globe raises some interesting questions about the recent dismissal of a legislative aide. The individual in question was fired 11 days after she had reached her twentieth year of service. The key verb is ‘fired’ (as opposed to ‘quit’). By being fired after reaching the magic 20 years of service, Section 10 of Chapter 32 is triggered, allowing employees to begin collecting their full pension before the age of 55. And curiously enough, a large percentage of those unlucky enough to be fired in this manner get fired almost immediately after reaching the 20 year mark. According to Commonwealth Magazine, one-third of the 1,100 ‘Section 10’ pensions granted since 1990 were to employees who had passed the 20 […]

Wacky Pension-Related Hijinks

Or maybe not so wacky. The estimable adamg over at Universal Hub points out this interesting nugget in today’s Herald: A veteran Boston police officer is expected to resign from the force after pleading guilty yesterday to charges he shot a fellow cop during an off-duty argument about whether he was too drunk to drive…he also indicated in court that he would turn in his badge after 27 years of service…entitling him to a city pension. [emphasis added] Pensions have been on our mind for the past year. We’ve taken a long hard look at the cost of various loopholes and the expense of underperformance at many local pension funds. We have not, however, done anything to close the loophole […]

Psst… the Speaker may be trying to tell you something.

First, Speaker DiMasi went to a Greater Boston Chamber breakfast and poured cold water on Governor Patrick’s ‘loophole closure/business tax hike‘, choosing the very venue where Patrick made one of the initial announcements about the plan. Next, the House budget amendments came out. Legislators found time to suggest the frivolous (like the much beloved Winter Moth study amendment) and the serious (eliminating the EQA by reinserting similar language from the Governor’s budget). However, precisely none of the Representatives attempted to reinsert the ‘loophole closure/business tax hikes’. A commission is being appointed to review the tax code (with an eye on business taxation), consisting of appointees of the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker? Speaker DiMasi’s apppointees? Associated Industries of Massachusetts […]

Build it and they will come?

I think we have heard that one before. So now we are going to build a $1.4 billion commuter line to New Bedford, even though the T can’t afford it, even though that will add to the ongoing costs of the T to maintain the line, and even though expected ridership is dismally low so it won’t even pay for a tiny fraction of the ongoing costs. Okay, what else is new? Perhaps we can build a convention center at the end of the line to soak up all the excess demand for conventions in Massachusetts. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD) and I did an op-ed on this months ago for […]

A Plea For Slightly Less Integrated Transportation Planning

The Herald’s has done a fine job pointing out one of the dumb things we do as a state — provide massive subsidies for little-used local airports that have no relevance to the transportation needs of the state.  Check out pg. 17 of this chart just to see how little usage many of these airports get. Many of these airports are home to a handful of privately-owned planes and certainly provide a service for those people, but the Herald correctly asks why the vast majority of commercial air travelers should be taxed to pay for it. The Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission is the state agency charged with the task of maintaining these smaller airports. And they have no compunction about these […]

More Drapes? Enough with the drapes!

Sometimes smart people cannot learn. We are smart people in Massachusetts. We all know that. Jim Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, is a smart and also capable guy. And he’s done a great job with the bad hand he was dealt. We have two convention centers and the market isn’t big enough to fill them. Jim R’s worked hard to fill the convention centers with events, any events, including meetings of law firms and boat and flower shows. There are some big shows, but still far too many events where people drive in and out of town, leaving in their wake not enough spending and too much traffic. Room nights is the coin of the realm […]

What a Difference 100 Days Makes……

Remember the early days: “We strongly believe that good governance means taking the best ideas from the best people, no matter what their Party.” Ehh, maybe not so much anymore: [The Governor’s informal group of advisors] agreed on a major priority: to crack the whip on the administration’s lagging efforts to replace Republican-appointed government managers with a team loyal to Patrick. Hey, he’s the Governor, he gets to pick his own team. But his major priority? Not sure that’s what the Administration needs to focus on right now.

The Winter Moth

As winter turns to spring, or the day of it, anyway, we can expect before summer arrives, I would like to turn my attention to nature. The winter moth was introduced to North America from Europe and has now spread over much of the northeastern United States and Canada. Like the gypsy moth, the winter moth loves to eat trees, but not just shade trees. No, the winter moth likes fruit too, particularly, I understand, apples and crabapples. Now this may not seem like all that big a deal. Unless, of course, you own or work in an orchard and depend on apples for your living. I suppose then it would be a very big deal. The reason I bring […]