THE PIONEER BLOG

MBTA Strikes Balance Nationally with Number of Vehicles Operated

The MBTA provides incredible benefits to the citizens of Massachusetts. Given that Metropolitan Boston provides 74 percent of the state’s jobs and generates 84 percent of its gross domestic product, the MBTA has the enormous responsibility of transporting about 500,000 commuters daily to sustain economic growth in the Commonwealth.  While the T has the obvious benefit of helping commuters get to work, including the 27 percent of MBTA light and heavy rail riders who are from zero-car households, the T actually generates $11.4 billion in annual benefits ($3.6 billion in travel cost savings, $7.1 billion in travel time savings, $640 million in avoided crash costs, and $30 million in avoided pollution costs). Given the importance of public transportation in the […]

MBTA’s Popular Heavy Rail System Lacking Expenditures

The MBTA’s heavy rail system is made up of the Red, Orange, and Blue lines and is a critical part of greater Boston’s public transportation network. In fact, given that about 57 percent of MBTA trips are on subways, heavy rail is crucial to countless individuals and companies in the Boston area. According to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com, from 2007 to 2017 unlinked passenger trips on the T grew by over 44 percent. In the same time period, the heavy rail system was the most popular of the T’s transit modes, chalking up 1.7 billion unlinked passenger trips, or nearly 60 million more than any other MBTA mode of transportation. In fact, the heavy rail system experienced a 14% growth between […]

MassOpenBooks: A Look at Annual Pension Trends

In 2018, the Commonwealth provided $5.2 Billion in pension benefits to retirees in the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System (MTRS) and Massachusetts State Employees’ Retirement System (MSERS). Of this amount, 42.6 percent went to the MSERS and 57.4 percent went to the MTRS. The public can sort through this pension data on MassOpenBooks, Pioneer Institute’s government transparency tool. The yearly change section of MassOpenBooks analyzes the pension data by providing the percent change since 2011. Below are charts that illustrate the average pension by year for MSERS and MTRS. In 2014, the average annual pension in the MSERS was $32,182. By 2018, it was $37,263, a 15.8 percent increase. During this time, there was a 27.5 percent increase in the total […]

MassOpenBooks: A Look at the Top Departments by Average Overtime Pay in 2018

In 2018, the Commonwealth provided a total of $368.15 million in overtime pay to state employees. MassOpenBooks, Pioneer Institute’s government transparency tool, sorts through and presents this data in an accessible manner. Below is a chart that lists the top 10 departments by average overtime pay for 2018. As indicated in the payroll section of MassOpenBooks, the Department of State Police has been the top agency for average overtime pay since 2010, the earliest year for which data has been made available by the state. From this time to 2018, average overtime pay increased 34.73 percent. This change is particularly concerning, considering the department’s recent overtime scandal. The State Police Department is not the only law enforcement agency to experience […]

A Follow-up on Pension Systems with the Highest Growth Rates in Unfunded Liability

As Pioneer has previously discussed, Massachusetts continues to kick the can down the road with regard to its public pension liabilities. Legislators and municipalities have not only delayed the funding schedules of these pension systems, but have also back-loaded them, leaving the bulk of debt amortization for the future, while only paying small amounts now. In a recent blog, Pioneer covered the three public pension systems with the highest growth rates in unfunded liability: Adams, Marblehead, and Winchester. Given the alarming increases, we wanted to see if these pension systems were making steps towards improvement– namely, if they planned to tackle their debt now rather than later. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Using MassPensions.com, one can […]

MassPensions: Three Highest Growth Rates in Unfunded Pension Liability

It’s no secret that Massachusetts’s public pension systems are following a dangerous path. At both the state and local levels, officials have allowed unfunded pension liabilities to grow at unsustainable rates. According to a recent Pioneer study, unfunded liabilities of the state’s three retirement systems grew by 196% between 2003 and 2017.  Most of the state’s 106 pension systems are not projected to be fully funded for another 10 to 20 years and taxpayers are ultimately on the hook for these questionably managed funds. Pensioners would be right to question if their benefits may someday be reduced. Ultimately, Massachusetts’s unfunded pension liabilities could hinder the state’s long-term economic growth, should investors believe that the only viable fix is a tax […]

MassPensions: Highest Reductions in Unfunded Liabilities

Despite the overall dismal performance of Massachusetts’s public pensions, there are systems that have done a noteworthy job of reducing their unfunded liability. For taxpayers who contribute to these systems and public employees who benefit from them, this is great news. It means they are less likely to see tax hikes and/or reduced benefits. It’s also great news for future generations who are less likely to have to shoulder the burden of their predecessors’ debt. While improvements of any kind are praiseworthy, there are a few pension systems that stand-out for significant progress in reducing their unfunded liability. Here are the public pensions with the largest decreases in unfunded liability over the past several years, according to MassPensions:   Leominster […]

MassAnalysis: Which municipality receives the most state revenue per capita?

Local governments generate capital from a variety of sources: service charges, federal revenue, state revenue, licensing and permit fees, local taxes, and interfund operating transfers.  Pioneer Institute’s Website, MassAnalysis, “allows the comparison of municipalities based on a wide variety of metrics.” The website shows that in 2017, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts supported its municipalities with a total of $5,375,589,950 in state aid and $11,886,739 in K-12 education funds.  Highest Municipal Receiver of State Aid Per Capita In 2017, Lawrence was the highest municipal recipient of state revenue per capita.  Lawrence received a whopping $2,583 per capita, or $205,475,789 state aid. From 2012-2017, state aid increased by 19.83 percent. Compared to its five closest urban peers, Lawrence received at least 30 […]

MassOpenBooks: The Top Overtime Earners in 2018

According to state law, most Massachusetts employees are entitled to 1.5 times their hourly wage for time worked over 40 hours per week. The public can sort through this overtime data and other payroll information on Pioneer Institute’s MassOpenBooks.  In 2018, the Commonwealth made a total of $368.15 million in overtime payments to public employees. Thirty-eight employees were paid more than $100,000 in overtime. From the top 100 earners, the average overtime pay was $101,856. While this is an astoundingly large amount, it does not tell the full story when it comes to overtime pay. Below is a chart that highlights the top 10 overtime earners and their overtime pay as a percent of their base pay. Source: MassOpenBooks. Hover […]

MBTA’s Planned Spending Comes at a Welcome Time

With the MBTA making the massive commitment to spend $8 billion on capital maintenance over the next five years, it is important to understand recent T capital expenditures if we are to grasp the significance of the agency’s investment. Over the past decade the T has ramped up spending, but it is still far from the planned $8 billion. Between 2013 and 2017, the T spent $3.29 billion on its bus, commuter rail, ferry, heavy rail, light rail, and trolleybus systems. While this was a large increase from the $2.1 billion spent over the previous five years (2008-2012) on the same modes, it is far from the spending Governor Baker has planned. It is, however, clear that in recent years […]

The MBTA’s Escalating Operating Expenses

The MBTA experienced a significant increase in operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile between 2007 and 2017, according to Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis.com. During that period, total operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile for MBTA bus, commuter rail, ferryboat, heavy rail, light rail, and trolleybus service increased by an average of 49.31%. The most significant contributor to the increase was MBTA bus service, which experienced a nearly 67% increase in total operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile. In pure dollar terms, ferries experienced the greatest increase, with operating expenses per vehicle revenue mile increasing by $15.94 between 2007 and 2017, which was $5.31 more than the second biggest increase. Of the major modes of transportation, heavy rail experienced the smallest rise during […]

MassOpenBooks: A Look at Departments with the Highest Average Pay

Ever wonder which public departments in Massachusetts pay their employees the highest average salaries? MassOpenBooks, Pioneer Institute’s government transparency tool, categorizes state government payroll data to make that information easily accessible. Below is a table listing the top departments by average pay for the past five years. In 2018, the Department of State Police was at the top of the list. Employees there made an annual average of $109,613, $20,752 more than the next highest-paying department. The State Police had the highest average pay every year since 2011. Since at least 2004, it has been either the highest or second highest-paying state agency. From 2004 to 2018, average pay there has increased by 30 percent; it has been in the […]

MassAnalysis: Drawing data-based comparisons between cities and towns

Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns—a constellation of communities ranging from small towns like Gosnold to major metropolises like Boston. But drawing comparisons between communities and getting a sense of how different municipal governments stack up has traditionally been very difficult. With the MassAnalysis data tool, created by the Pioneer Institute, it’s possible to gain visibility and meaningful insights by setting peers for a given community across numerous metrics. Let’s take a look at Worcester, the “Heart of the Commonwealth” and its second-largest city, and see how it stacks up. Revenue, Expenditures and Debt Among its immediate peer group, which includes the 20 most populous cities in the state, Worcester collects total annual revenue of $3317 per capita, which comes […]

MassPensions: The Leaders and Laggards among Massachusetts Public Pension Systems

As detailed in a recent study published by the Pioneer Institute, Massachusetts continues to put off fully funding its public pension plans. This is especially concerning since the interest that accrues from deferred payments dramatically increases the amount taxpayers ultimately have to pay.   To help inform citizens about the current status of the state’s 106 public pension systems, Pioneer’s MassPensions.com has graded each system. The main factor contributing to the grades is the expected year in which systems are projected to be fully funded. An “A” indicates that a system’s pension liability will be fully funded in less than 4 years, while an “F” indicates that it will be over 20 years before full funding is achieved. It is important to note that MassPensions has used the most recent data, which is from […]

MassAnalysis: Understanding local debts

Although they must maintain balanced budgets, Massachusetts municipalities routinely go into debt to fund local projects. By borrowing and issuing bonds, they can opt to finance everything from new schools to the acquisition of conservation land. Using MassAnalysis, a powerful data tool created by the Pioneer Institute, let’s explore some of these debt figures across the Commonwealth and gain insights on the positions of various communities. When it comes to financing local projects, municipalities are limited by Proposition 2 ½ which passed by referendum in 1982, limiting annual property tax increases to 2.5 percent of the assessed value in any given municipality. However, through a town-wide vote, a community can pass a temporary debt exclusion tax hike or can override […]