THE PIONEER BLOG

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 […]

A List of the Top Pension Earners in 2018

The Massachusetts’ Teachers Retirement System and the Massachusetts State Employees’ Retirement System provided approximately $2.99 and $2.22 billion in benefits, respectively, for a total of $5.21 billion in 2018. According to Pioneer Institute’s MassOpenBooks, a government transparency tool that provides data on the Commonwealth’s retirement systems, these benefits went to 64,734 retirees in the Massachusetts’ Teachers Retirement System (MTRS) and 59,423 in the Massachusetts State Employees’ Retirement System (MSERS). MassOpenBooks users can sort general characteristics such as by year, employer, and/or individual. In 2018, the average MSERS retiree received $37,310 in pension benefits, but a large number of retirees were paid much more. Not surprisingly, 5 out of the top 12 beneficiaries were employed by the University of Massachusetts Medical […]

MBTA Exhibits Worrying Vehicle Revenue Miles Trend

Along with Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the T is the only other US transit agency that operates all five major types of terrestrial mass transit vehicles: light rail vehicles (the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed and Green Lines); heavy rail trains (the Blue, Orange, and Red Lines); regional rail trains (the commuter rail); electric trolleybuses (the Silver Line); and motor buses (MBTA Bus). Therefore, the T has an enormous responsibility to the public as a vast amount of commuters rely on it on a daily basis. Given its vast network, the MBTA is and should remain under constant scrutiny. A vehicle revenue mile is defined as one vehicle traveling one mile with revenue passengers are on board, and is one […]

Moving Forward into the Future: Enter the Better Government Competition

Summer 2019 is starting and so far, the year has been full of surprises. Here at Pioneer, we’ve looking closely at how to move people and goods now, soon, and in the years to come. Through our Better Government Competition, we’re gathering ideas from around the country. Below are just some of the biggest headlines of 2019, and challenges related to how we’ll keep moving forward. Send us your ideas to improve transportation – you could win $10,000! This year Amazon Prime has started delivering its own packages (and possibly others as well), which means that by the end of 2019 there will be more delivery trucks on the road, perhaps fewer people driving to shop, and new traffic challenges. […]

Presenting Pioneer’s New Annual Report: “Shaping Our Future”

We at Pioneer Institute work every day to promote policies that result in better school options, broader access to affordable healthcare, improved public services and infrastructure, and a more attractive climate for innovators and capital. In Pioneer’s 2018 Annual Report (available to download or view online here), we share our work to drive this agenda in the Commonwealth and across the country. We share progress at the MBTA, even as much work remains. And we share success in expanding economic opportunity. Download Pioneer Institute’s 2018 Annual Report or visit our online version. In this report back to you, our community of supporters, we change our format to focus on impact. We do this understanding that we cannot control the future […]

A Rational Voice on the State of American Higher Education and the Cost Crisis

At a time of increasing disruption in the higher education marketplace, Pioneer Institute is working to ensure that our 2-, 4- and advanced degree-granting institutions — which are the envy of the world — innovate and address spiraling tuition costs. Too many students — 1 in 8 — are grappling with overwhelming college loan debt. Some smaller private colleges are struggling to survive or right-size in recognition of shrinking demand. Meanwhile public institutions suffer from an acute case of “empire building,” erecting new dorms and building out residential services that will require billions of additional dollars, even as the Commonwealth’s high school graduating classes are declining in number. Too often the proposals put forth are poorly crafted and aimed at political ends rather […]

The Connection Between Property Taxes and Pension Funding

A recent study from economist Evgenia Gorina, published in the journal State and Local Government Review, found a positive relationship between a local government’s reliance on property taxes as a revenue source and how well-funded their pensions are. In other words, local governments that rely heavily on property taxes as funding sources tend to have better-funded pension programs. On the other hand, local governments that rely on intergovernmental aid (usually from state and federal governments) as a revenue source have more precariously-funded pensions. Is this true in Massachusetts? Pioneer Institute’s MassWatch program provides citizens with transparent information on public programs, and how local governments raise and spend their money. When considering questions of pensions and taxes, the relevant databases are […]

MassAnalysis: The scoop on Massachusetts municipal crime data

Preventing crime is a key concern for communities across Massachusetts. But how do different municipalities stack up in the fight against violent and property crime? With the help of the Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis tool, we’ll take a look at up-to-the-minute data that gives a sense of crime across the Commonwealth. Violent crime By the raw 2017 numbers, Boston registered the largest number of violent crimes in the state, with a total of with 4,570.  This is no surprise, given that it is by far the Commonwealth’s most populous city.   However, the pattern for violent crime doesn’t mirror population after that point. In 2017, Springfield and Worcester were nearly tied for violent crimes, with 1,351 and 1,345 respectively. Brockton stood in […]

MassAnalysis: In search of a strong financial footing

You don’t have to be a member of the Finance Committee to know how fiscally responsible your town officials behave. With the MassAnalysis tool, created by the Pioneer Institute, residents as well as policymakers can better understand the financial position of their communities and factors as wide-ranging as tax bases, municipal expenditures and state aid transfers. Available resources in terms of assessed property value and other streams of revenue play a major role in the financial standing of cities and towns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 2017 Boston and Cambridge led the pack in the value of assessed property due in part to high housing demand and the concentration of large companies in both cities.  However, other hubs for industrial parks and […]

Three Cheers for the MBTA’s Perq Commuter Benefits Program

Late last year, the MBTA rolled out a promotional campaign to rebrand the 45-year-old Corporate Pass Program with a new name (Perq), a new website, special fare cards and plenty of information to help employers and employees sign up for the commuter benefit program. The program allows employees to save up to 40 percent by using pre-tax dollars to pay for their commuter expenses. Pioneer Institute congratulates MBTA leadership for invigorated emphasis on this program, which provides approximately 30 percent of the T’s fare revenue. The 2018 Pioneer Institute white paper, “Increasing MBTA Ridership and Revenues with Company Commuter Benefit Programs,” found that a 20 percent jump in employer and employee participation could increase annual revenue by $70 million. Unlike most proposals […]

ICYMI: U.S. HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s Remarks on Healthcare Price Transparency, Opioid Crisis, HIV Epidemic & More

This past Monday, Pioneer held the 13th annual Hewitt Healthcare Lecture to honor our longtime chairman (and chairman of Beth Israel Deaconess) Colby Hewitt, Jr. The crowd of 250 enjoyed a substantive and fun night — the two can go together! — at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center.  The 2019 Hewitt Keynote Speaker, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II engaged in an open-format conversation with Pioneer Senior Fellow Josh Archambault, and he covered a lot of ground. In the clips below, you’ll hear noteworthy remarks on a number of fronts: price transparency, opioids, HIV/AIDs, pharmaceutical pricing, protecting Medicare, and much more. We hope you enjoy the discussion. The full fireside chat with Secretary Azar is available below. You can […]