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 […]

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 […]