THE PIONEER BLOG

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 […]

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 […]