THE PIONEER BLOG

The Metro & the MBTA: Raising Fares May Not Be Enough

New York City and Boston are drastically different cities, but their transit systems are struggling with the same problems. Now both cities have proposed fare increases as part of their solutions. Many riders are upset, claiming they haven’t seen improvements sufficient to merit the increases. Transit advocates and policy researchers lament that the fare hikes won’t be enough without big changes.   The Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City (MTA) claims their fare increase is modest, mostly just an inflation adjustment. Last year the MTA postponed voting on a fare increase until February of 2019, saying the declining quality of the system made it hard to justify an increase. They were then able to slightly improve system reliability, and […]

The State Legislature Should Steer Clear of New Occupational Licensing Laws

The reach of occupational licensing laws has expanded greatly over the past half-century. In the 1950s, only 5 percent of the U.S. workforce needed a government-issued license to do their jobs. Now, almost 30 percent of workers require one. While everyone knows that doctors and lawyers have rigorous requirements, numerous jobs now require licenses. As the Institute for Justice found, over half the states require licenses for professions such as carpenters, head coaches, drywall installers, and makeup artists. These licenses often require thousands of dollars in fees, a bachelor’s degree, and more than a year of additional training. Economists have roundly lamented the expansion of occupational licensing laws. Milton Friedman originally criticized occupational licenses as being motivated by a desire […]

Drop in MBTA Commuter Rail Ridership Continues

A recent Boston Globe column by Northeastern University Professor Joseph M. Giglio and our own Charlie Chieppo has drawn the ire of some transit advocates.  In it, Giglio and Chieppo argue that commuter rail trains that provide station-to-station service are poorly positioned to compete with shared, electric, self-driving cars, when they become dominant several decades from now. The advocates seem to have seized on the fact that the authors wrote that MBTA commuter rail ridership is down, and they assert that it has actually spiked in recent years.  But that claim seems to be based more on wishful thinking than fact. The official standard for ridership statistics is the National Transit Database (NTD), which contains data reported by transit agencies […]

Guess What Massachusetts Public Employee Earns Over $1 Million

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 Mass Open Books, 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. One surprising fact this data brings to light is that, for the second straight year, there has been exactly one state employee making over $1 million in salary, which had never happened before 2017. That year, one public employee earned $1,043,226. In 2018, that same employee made $1,069,752. Who was it? University of Massachusetts Worcester Medical School […]

After Win Number Six, Transit is Still a Loss

How was your commute yesterday? Odds are, it wasn’t good. Forty-seven percent of February 5th’s peak-hour commuter rail trains (7:00 am to 9:00am and 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm) were late. Your chances of getting to work or home on time were about the same as the Patriots winning the toss and electing to defer. Monthly commuter rail passes range in price from $84.50 to $398.25. Since the cheapest ($84.50) serves region 1A (most of which is already served by MBTA buses and subways), commuters from further away are usually paying for a service they need. There is no subway or bus they can catch to work. Many don’t have the extra $70 it would take for a one-way Uber/Lyft/taxi […]

Our Government Transparency Resolutions for 2019

Government transparency has already suffered two major blows in 2019. First, a special legislative commission charged with making recommendations on the legislature’s and governor’s exemptions from public records law failed to reach consensus on a long-awaited report on improvements.> Second, Mr. Transparency himself, State Comptroller Tom Shack, the driver behind CTHRU, the state’s highly acclaimed spending transparency website, announced he was leaving state service. The recent state police overtime scandals came to light when journalists reviewed CTHRU. Historically, Massachusetts has ranked at or near rock bottom nationally in terms of open government, with one of the chief reasons being the legislature’s exemptions from open meeting and public records law. It’s time to change that and it will be up to the […]

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. On the whole, local governments in Massachusetts raised just over $99 million through all fines and forfeitures in 2016. The Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm, estimated that in 2014, Massachusetts local governments raised […]

MBTA Leak Tracker

MBTA Station Leak Tracker

While more than half of the MBTA’s stations are in need of repair, it’s not the MBTA’s highest priority to fix them. The Massachusetts Transportation Secretary has made it clear that the MBTA still prioritizes buying new vehicles and installing new tracks before basic station maintenance. MBTA stations have puddles even during the middle of summer. Mold crawls along damp walls, making it hard for some passengers to breathe. Umbrellas are used indoors during even minor storms, since it’s often raining in […]

Saluting a Fine Public Servant

State comptroller isn’t a job that’s very familiar to the average Massachusetts resident, but during his tenure, Tom Shack has shown just how important and impactful the position can be.  As he departs the office, he deserves kudos for his good work. Soon after his appointment in 2015, Tom recognized the need to improve state government transparency.  Although providing a transparency site wasn’t a statutory responsibility of comptroller, he felt compelled to research solutions to provide the Commonwealth’s citizens with a state of the art, intuitive, and user-friendly platform to get more eyes on state data. In September 2016, CTHRU successfully debuted.  It took just seven months to develop and cost far less to procure and maintain compared to its […]

the Boston skyline overlaid with money.

Overtime Pay Tally Reveals Large Disparities

The top 50 overtime earners among state employees averaged $99,114 in overtime pay during fiscal 2017. Of the top 50 the top earners, two work in the Department of Mental Health, two in the Department of Public Health, five in the Department of Transportation, 11 in the Department of Corrections and 30 are in the State Police Department, five of whom are part of the State Police Overtime Scandal. Also, 21 of the top 50 overtime earners made more in overtime pay than their regular salary. The spreadsheet below lists the 50 state employees who received the most overtime pay in 2017, downloaded from MassOpenBooks, a research tool offered by Pioneer Institute (an asterisk signifies involvement in the State Police […]

A Win for Commuters

We are thrilled that the MBTA is moving forward to expand its corporate pass program (CPP) as recommended by Pioneer Institute in January. Pioneer believes the program has great potential to increase both ridership and revenue. The MBTA’s corporate pass program allows employees to purchase T passes through their employers with pre-tax dollars, which in turn reduces employee taxable income and employers’ payroll taxes. The program allows companies to subsidize passes for employees as a pre-tax benefit. The goal is to incentivize more people to use public transportation and improve the environment. Everybody wins. Under commuter benefit programs, employers can provide their employees with a tax-free transit subsidy and/or exclude from taxable wages a total of up to $260 monthly. These benefits can cut employee […]

Moving the MBTA Forward

We are pleased that former Pioneer Institute Research Director Steve Poftak has been named the next General Manager of the MBTA. While at Pioneer, Steve oversaw and directly authored a high-quality portfolio of research that spanned from transportation and infrastructure to pension and other state and local post-employment liabilities. Pioneer has long been committed to advancing excellent mobility options for all residents and visitors, including a wide range of public transit services. After the T melted down in reaction to the winter of 2015’s record snowfall, the Institute combined academic-quality research with efforts to educate the public on a series of timely reforms, starting with our proposal to create a Fiscal and Management Control Board and including changes to the T’s sick time policy, troubled pension […]

Rebuilding the Long Island Bridge May Not Be the Answer

From the 1920s to 2014, Boston Harbor’s Long Island played an integral role in housing medical, rehabilitation and shelter facilities for the City of Boston. Specifically, a homeless shelter was opened on the island in 1928; an almshouse, addiction facility and a chronic disease hospital in 1941; plus several since-decommissioned World War II-era military installments. In 1950, a major step to improve access to the island, which had only been reachable by boat or ferry, was the $2 million construction of the Long Island viaduct. The project provided access to the Island via a bridge connected to neighboring Moon Island, which was connected to North Quincy by a causeway. However, in 2014, at the urging of MassDOT and following years […]

The Roger Perry Internship Program

Pioneer has established the Roger Perry Internship Program to support college-age students who seek opportunities to enhance their educational experience with practical training in an energetic and creative public policy environment.

Happy Thanksgiving from Pioneer Institute!

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, a distinctly American tradition, let us enjoy the company of friends and family, and reflect on the many reasons we have to be grateful. Pioneer is thankful for your continued support and the amazing generosity that our community has shown the Institute. Your commitment to our mission makes it possible for us to advance ideas that elevate the public conversation and reforms that improve the quality of life for all residents of the Commonwealth. We wish you a happy Thanksgiving! Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution to support Pioneer.