$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 […]

Cape Cod’s Struggling Workforce

Cape Cod welcomes about four million tourists a year thanks to its standing as a top summer destination. To accommodate this influx of people, businesses on the Cape hire an estimated 20,000 temporary seasonal workers. With many towns having a small and aging population, employers, primarily from the restaurant and hotel industry, have to turn to foreign nationals to meet their seasonal labor needs. However, after visa laws were revised in 2018, a current shortage of these workers stands to threaten the Cape’s summer businesses. The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. The amount of H-2B visas that can be issued nationwide is decided annually […]

Blandford’s Police Resignation Could Shed Light on Underlying Issues

Last week, the Town of Blandford’s police force resigned en masse, leaving the community without local police, and increasing the presence of state police. All four members of the Town of Blandford’s police, including the interim Chief Roberta Sarnacki, resigned last week, claiming they were working in unsafe conditions for unfair wages. Sarnacki said these unsafe conditions included ill-fitting and expired bullet-proof vests, radios that did not work in most parts of the town, and a number of issues with their police vehicles, including air conditioning, brake, and seat problems. The officers also claimed they were paid less than they deserved for putting their lives in danger. “They are asking us to do this with no radio coverage, no real […]

So what will Commissioner Evans’ Pension Be?

A few weeks ago, Boston Police commissioner William B. Evans announced his retirement, and just this week William Gross was sworn in as the new Boston Police Department Commissioner at a ceremony held at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. After 38 years on the Boston police force and four years as commissioner, William Evans decided to end his career of constant on-the-clock service. By all accounts, his service to the city was exceptional.   Commissioner Evans was noted for rising through the ranks of the Boston police force. He joined as a cadet, and since has served every position. As a captain, Evans was first stationed in Boston’s most densely populated region. As superintendent, he peacefully mitigated Occupy Boston, which […]

Questions Surrounding Recreational Marijuana on Cape Cod

Through a 2016 ballot initiative, Massachusetts joined a small group of states that allow the sale of recreational marijuana. However, as the state gets closer to the opening of its first recreational pot shop, many regions in the Commonwealth are second guessing the sale of cannabis within their boundaries. In fact, about 70 communities have a recreational marijuana ban in place, and about 160 more cities and towns have a moratorium of some sort. Cape Cod’s towns have similar feelings, as many questions have arisen over the future of pot shops in the region. Residents on Cape Cod have been hesitant to introduce any type of legalized marijuana, primarily because of the concern that easier access could lead to increased […]

Under Pending Bill, Punishment could Fit the Crime

In light of recent turmoil in the Department of State Police (DSP), Governor Baker has called for not only revoking the pensions of the troopers involved in the overtime scandal, but to be harder on the forfeiture of pensions. In recent months, troopers who are under investigation have rushed to retire to keep their pensions safe; some have even begun to receive benefits. According to the Boston Globe, since the investigation began, at least 17 troopers have retired, many of whom have received hefty buyouts for unused vacation and sick days. However, these pensions might not be safe if state lawmakers pass Bill S2074 in time. The legislative session ended on July 31st, but the investigation is ongoing, so there […]

National Park Service Attracts Cape Cod Summer Visitors

The Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), located in the towns of Chatham, Eastham, Orleans, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The land encompasses over 43,000 acres and nearly 40 miles of seashore. The National Park Service (an agency of the Department of Interior) is responsible for maintaining the Seashore’s pristine condition. The Department’s work is critical to the all-important Cape Cod tourism industry as there were two million National Seashore visits last summer. The importance of Cape Cod’s beaches is reflected in the number of Department of Interior employees located on the Cape who work to adhere to the Department’s mission of “Protecting and managing the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage.” In […]

A row of files with the city hall seal

Stonewalled at City Hall

Pioneer Institute interns often visit government offices to obtain or confirm information we may use in a blog.  In this capacity, we made a trip to Boston’s City Hall to determine which retirement group Commissioner William Evans would fall into. Public retirees in Massachusetts are broken into four groups that use different calculations to determine pension benefits.  Group 1, which includes most employees, gets the least generous benefit, while members of Group 3 (the State Police) receive the richest.   While one would think the public could get an answer to the question online, it simply wasn’t that easy. The classification for group numbers on the City of Boston’s “Your Retirement Options” page is unclear and vague when it comes […]

Making Troopers Transparent: At What Cost?

In May 2018, The Boston Globe reported on its effort to gain access to information about troopers through a lawsuit aimed at the Massachusetts Department of State Police (DSP) as part of an overall effort to hold the DSP more accountable. In light of various scandals, increased transparency in the beleaguered agency is critical to restore public trust. However, too much transparency may put troopers at risk in some cases. The key is finding the appropriate balance between privacy and transparency.  After all, how can we hold the agency accountable if we have no insight into what its employees are doing on the state’s dime? A compromise is in order. As an example, California discloses the names and area where […]

Got Milk? The Answer Might Soon Be No in Massachusetts

It’s not a good time to be a dairy farmer in Massachusetts, and it hasn’t been for years. As of 2016, 90 percent of the Commonwealth’s dairy farmers reported enrollment in federal aid programs. Their economic situation became especially critical in 2009, when the recession pushed milk prices to record lows, and farmers sold their product for about half its production cost. Since then Massachusetts’ legislature and federal politicians have supported several other dairy subsidies (including MILC, Dairy-MPP, and DFTC), with no sign of the industry stabilizing. “The situation for dairy farmers is about as bad as it’s been,” Sunderland farmer Bob Williams told the Greenfield Recorder. The Milk Income Contract Loss Program (MILC) was established in 2002 to compensate […]

A Public Transit that Neglects Its Public

Two of a community’s most important hubs are its colleges and hospitals. Higher education keeps a population vibrant and upwardly mobile, while access to health care keeps them well. Pioneer Institute’s municipal website, MassAnalysis, classifies Lowell, Lawrence and New Bedford as peers based on population density and size.  For these cities, each with over 20 percent of their populations living below the poverty line, public transit is a necessity. Yet the doesn’t even offer Sunday service. In Lowell, service to these community hubs is significantly slower than in its peer cities.  On average, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority’s (LRTA’s) service is 1.7 times slower than similar service in Lawrence and 1.2 times slower than in New Bedford. This is because […]

Cape Cod’s Battle Against the Opioid Epidemic

In recent years, opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts have increased much faster than the national average. While steps are being taken to combat the problem, the crisis has challenged all the Commonwealth’s communities. Cape Cod has especially struggled. Of Massachusetts’ 14 counties, Barnstable had the fourth highest opioid overdose death rate of 31.39 per 100,000 people in 2017. One of the main factors contributing to the development of Cape Cod’s opioid problem was a high opiate prescription rate. In 2012 Cape Cod had an opiate prescription rate about 24 percent higher than the state average. While opioid-related overdose deaths decreased by nearly 19 percent on the Cape from 2016 to 2017, rescuers responded to 15 percent more overdose calls last year […]