THE PIONEER BLOG

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.

Marking the Centennial of the Armistice of the First World War

November 11th marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of the First World War. America’s first engagement as a major global actor, the rise of German militarism and the Soviet Union, and the geographic boundaries of the Middle East, are only some of the reasons why World War I is often considered the most influential event of the 20th century. Please join Pioneer in honoring Veterans and Armistice Day, as we celebrate our nation’s shared past. Op-ed: On Veterans Day, Learning from ‘Black Jack’ Pershing by Jamie Gass “There’s no ‘glory’ in killing. There’s no ‘glory’ in maiming men,” said American six-star General John “Black Jack” Pershing, upon his 1924 retirement. “There are the glorious dead, but they would be more glorious […]

The Storrow Drive Tunnel Has The Lowest Sufficiency Rating In The Country, Why Hasn’t It Been Fixed Yet?

If you live in or commute to Boston, chances are you’ve driven through the Storrow Tunnel, the east-bound section of Storrow Drive where the lanes run underneath the westbound lanes for a half mile stretch in the area between Back Bay’s Clarendon Street and the Hatch Shell. Nearly 60,000 drivers travel through it every day, with few likely being aware that it has earned the worst “bridge sufficiency rating” of all operating bridges in the United States according to Travel & Leisure magazine. The “bridge sufficiency rating” is calculated using a formula defined by the Federal Highway Administration to serve as a prioritization tool to allocate federal funds, accounting for structural adequacy and safety, serviceability for modern use, and significance […]

Commuter Rail Twitter Reveals History of Delays

An easy way to bond with fellow Bostonians is to complain about commuter rail. While it’s often regarded as unreliable, unexplainable, and unresponsive, a weakness in the transparency of MBTA performance data makes these claims no more than conjecture. True, the agency has made vast improvements in making its operation public in recent years, but there is more work to be done. While State of Service Reports will list miles between failure, ridership statistics, and causes for delays, the MBTA had not release a count of postponements; at least not until corporate social media accountability became the trend, and MBTA Commuter Rail got a Twitter profile. A short computer script downloaded all of the @MBTA_CR profile’s tweets. Their first one, […]

What impact do Massachusetts home prices have on Boston commuters?

Massachusetts is commonly ranked one of the most expensive states in to live in, and recent housing market data indicates that isn’t likely to change any time soon. In June, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors (MAR) reported that the median price for a single family home had reached $430,000, an all-time high. The condominium market looks similar, with median prices reaching an unprecedented $390,000 according to MAR and the Warren Group. One reason for the spike in home and condo prices is a lack of homes for sale. Specifically, the number of homes on the market declined 16% from last year. In Massachusetts, where a large portion of residents commute to Boston for work, the increase in home prices can […]

$40 or Freedom: Uncounted Cash in the Legal System

Forty dollars isn’t chump change. It’s about three lunches in Boston financial district, or eight pounds of chicken for a family. For a single-person household at the federal poverty line (which represents 10.4 percent of those in Massachusetts), it’s 17 percent of their weekly income. For almost 6,000 people in 2015, it was the minimum cost of freedom. In Massachusetts, like most states, there’s a long wait time between arrest and trial. This “in jail awaiting trial” period can be as short as a few days, or as long as a year. Nationally, only 4 percent of defendants are denied bail, meaning that for the vast majority of US court cases there’s a price tag on their temporary release. Theoretically […]

The Opioid Crisis’ Wealth Window: There’s a Network of Overdoses on the East Coast

Billerica, Massachusetts is a quaint town of 40,000 people in Middlesex County, the 25th richest county in the nation, right after Rockwall County, Texas, according to the 2016 American Community Survey.   Billerica’s town government spends its time improving their Yankee Doodle Bike Path and protecting their local wetlands. Their Council on Aging even gives out gift cards for local restaurants to those who participate in local government events. On Tuesday, May 30th, 2017 a raffle was held at their “Opioids & How NOT To Be a Victim” event for a $50 gift card to one such restaurant. Unfortunately, beautiful Billerica has had 56 residents die from opioid overdoses since 2000, giving it a death rate of 1.4 per 1,000 people. […]

A Wealth of Data: A Map of the Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic

In 2016, the rate of opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts was more than double the national average (29.7 compared to 13.3 per 100,000 people). But Massachusetts doesn’t follow the usual trend for its users. Other states (like Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia) struggle hardest in rural communities, where increased availability and social networks make addiction easier. In Massachusetts, however, the opposite is true. Pioneer Institute mapped opioid deaths from 2000 to Quarter 1 of 2018, with data the State released in May 2018.  To see the legend in any of these maps, click the arrow in the upper left-hand corner. View larger map  In these maps, normalized by population, rural Western Massachusetts is actually a cold spot for overdoses, whereas […]

MA Short-Term Rental Tax is a Big Win for Cape’s Wastewater Management

Massachusetts lawmakers recently passed legislation to extend the 5.7 percent surtax on hotel and motel room occupancy to short-term rentals. The legislation will also give towns the option of adding an additional 6 percent onto the tax; 9 percent if an owner rents out two or more units in the same community. The primary objective of the legislation is to capture revenue from rooms rented through online services like Airbnb. The bill will make Massachusetts the first state to track short-term rentals via a statewide registry. While Governor Baker returned the bill to Beacon Hill for more work because of his feeling that homeowners who rent their homes for less than 14 days a year should be exempt from the […]