Time to Say “Cut” on Massachusetts’ Film Tax Credit?

State Senate President Karen Spilka is taking preliminary steps towards reforming the state’s tax code, assembling a group of policymakers, academics, and other specialists to look for ways to make the Massachusetts tax code more progressive and possibly raise revenue. One place that’s ripe for reform is Massachusetts’s film tax credit program. What is the Film Tax Credit? Under current law, film production companies that spend more than $50,000 in Massachusetts are eligible for a sales tax exemption, a payroll tax credit worth 25 percent of its total salary costs, and a 25 percent production expense tax credit. To be eligible for the production tax credit, the company has to either spend at least half its film production budget in-state […]

Prepare for Town Budget Season with MassWatch

Online tools to understand your community’s financial condition &  so much more! Town budget season is upon us. Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis makes it easy to be well-prepared with the right questions to ask! MassAnalysis is one of Pioneer’s suite of online databases, known as MassWatch, that provide the tools you need to better understand your state and local government. MassAnalysis provides you with historic financial information on your community and allows you to benchmark your town’s performance against its peer communities. The site provides you with information on education, employment, crime, transportation, and demographics that you can use for benchmarking, as well. For sample questions for municipal departments and budgeting tips, download Pioneer Institute’s Guide to Sound Fiscal Management for Municipalities for […]

MassOpenBooks: A look inside MassPort

Every day, thousands of passengers pass through Logan Airport, a facility run by the Massachusetts Port Authority, or MassPort. What many may not realize is that in addition to its state agencies, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts grants public-employee benefits and funding to several large “quasi-public” agencies. MassVentures and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership lead the pack in average employee pay, with $109,958 and $102,245, in 2016, respectively. But MassPort, which also manages Norwood and Hanscom Airports, isn’t far behind at $78,307. Using Pioneer Institute’s MassOpenBooks tool, let’s take a look at MassPort’s finances. MassPort Police Even though MassPort has handed off virtually all public safety duties to Troop F of the Massachusetts State Police, it has retained the MassPort Police. Every […]

MBTAAnalysis: A look inside the MBTA

The MBTA shuttles over a million passengers a day around Greater Boston on buses, trains, trolleys, subways and ferries. The system is essential for commuters within core metropolitan communities, outer suburbs and even many Gateway Cities. But the T has had a long history of troubling cost overruns, long delays, poor service, and at times rundown equipment and infrastructure. Massachusetts residents deserve a transit system that works effectively and efficiently, which can be achieved through transparency and good management. With Pioneer Institute’s MBTAAnalysis tool, everyone from citizens to policymakers can explore the inner financial workings of the MBTA and make sense of the data. Let’s take a look at a few insights about how the T runs. Thanks in part […]

A Primer on Secondary Revenue Sources for Local Governments

Using Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis tool, one can find information on how municipal governments raise revenue to fund services. A majority of revenue comes from local taxes – mostly property taxes – but a significant portion comes from transfers from the state and from other governments. On top of taxes and transfers, local governments also finance spending using various fees and fines. While the different types of fees and fines might sound similar, their social and economic merits can vary widely. Service charges (also known as user fees) are payments the public makes to government to use a public service. One example would be paying $10 to swim in a public pool or visit a public park. Economists tend to like […]

Coastal Towns Charge the Most Permit Fees Per Capita in Massachusetts

One of the ways local governments raise revenue is by requiring permits and licenses for various activities. Occupational licensing laws, which require a series of tests, education, and fees before someone can enter certain professions, are administered at the state level. However, local governments charge permit fees for changes to buildings, new businesses, reviews of historic property, recreational events, and other behaviors. In 2016, Massachusetts municipalities collected just over $362 million in revenue from fees for licenses and permits. The economic argument for permit fees is that the person paying for the government-service is the person benefitting from that service. A common example of this would be using tolls to fund roads. Drivers, the beneficiaries of government-provided roads, are the […]

Pioneer Institute Celebrates Sunshine Week 2019

Sunshine Week is dedicated to bringing greater awareness to the importance of government transparency and to highlighting areas where improvement is needed. After all, a healthy democracy is unsustainable unless people are fully informed and can meaningfully engage in the democratic process. To celebrate Sunshine Week, each year Pioneer reviews some of its recent work to bring greater public accountability to Massachusetts government. Our objective is for the Commonwealth to rank among the nation’s most transparent states. Sadly, in its latest rankings, the Center for Public Integrity placed Massachusetts among the worst states for public records access. While there has been some progress since then to bring sunshine to Beacon Hill, many would say a persistent gray cloud looms over […]

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 […]