Sunshine Week 2017: Highlights from Pioneer’s Government Transparency Team

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It’s Sunshine Week once again! While it may fall close to spring break, it means something even better than Coppertone and Daytona Beach.

Each year during Sunshine Week, Pioneer reviews the government transparency work it has completed through the year to highlight efforts to bring greater public accountability to Massachusetts. Our objective is to have the Commonwealth rank among the nation’s most transparent states; while there has been progress when it comes to bringing sunshine to Beacon Hill, we still have an uphill climb. So put your sandals away, get a cup of hot coffee, and take a look at some of Pioneer’s highlights:

So you leave the doctor’s office, prescription in hand, and you want to take it to the pharmacy that will give you the best price. If you call around, how accessible and accurate is price information?

Pioneer Institute’s Barbara Anthony and Lovett C. Peters Fellow Scott Haller teamed up to solve that mystery. They surveyed pharmacies on pricing and here’s what they found: Survey of Drug Price Information. Looks like there’s still some work to do!

When it comes to healthcare provider price transparency, Pioneer’s all over it.
In testimony before the Special Legislative Commission on Provider Price Variation, we made a host of policy recommendations to help consumers learn how to make value-conscious healthcare decisions. And we didn’t stop there. We recently wrote about how enforcing existing laws and creating incentives for carriers would complement Governor’s Baker’s proposals to promote price transparency, which can be read here, here, and here.

When it comes to better government, Research Director Greg Sullivan once again earned the highly sought-after title of ‘Mr. Sunshine.’

He put University of Massachusetts construction projects under a microscope – and didn’t like what he found. UMass’ debt grew from $946.2 million to $2.9 billion between fiscal years 2005 and 2016, and annual debt payments grew from $88.5 million to $223.4 million during that time. Good luck paying for all of that, Mr. Meehan!

The MBTA of course comes to mind during any discussion of debt. Yeah, it’s nice to have an open seat next to you for your backpack, but guess who’s paying for it? That’s right – you are! That’s why Greg and his sidekick Matt Blackbourn have been so focused on increasing MBTA ridership. Read up on their thoughts!

And of course we want promises made to the T’s retired workforce to be kept. That’s why Mr. Sunshine crawled into his attic to find a megaphone. “Calling all auditors! Calling all auditors!” he cried to every village and farm. All he needed was a horse named Brown Beauty to sound the alarm! Yep, it’s time for an independent audit of the T’s pension plan –  this time the right way!

And our former colleague, Dr. Iliya Atanasov, went full steam ahead to put our public pension systems in better focus.

We don’t know about you, but we think $100 million is a boatload of money. If municipal retirement plans took the Good Doctor’s advice, they’d save that much each year.

If you think $100 million is a lot, how about $902 million? That’s how much the value of local pensions would have increased if they let the state retirement fund invest their money rather than doing it on their own.
Major take away: Follow the Good Doctor’s orders!

Chirping crickets. While they make for a calm August night, it was what we heard when we asked Governor Baker to be bold and lift the blanket exemption to public records law enjoyed by the Governor’s office.

Never ones to pass on fighting for government transparency (the lifeblood of a healthy democracy), we just sent him another request.

What could be a better Sunshine Week gift?

And the legislature promised to look more deeply into these blanket exemptions. We’re keeping an eye out and will report back to you during Sunshine Week 2018.

At Pioneer, we are committed to promoting government transparency as a year-round pursuit.  Check out Pioneer’s 2017 Resolutions for the New Year.

The future of government transparency will be in good hands. Through Pioneer’s Roger Perry Internship program and the Northeastern Co-op Program, we are training the transparency enthusiasts of tomorrow.
Our interns and co-op students uncover and write about a wide range of topics. Today’s college students never cease to amaze us; young eyes are indeed fresh eyes!! Like Boston University student Thejasa Jayachandran talking about the Game of Life (and Debt).

And then there was Will Kauppila of St. Lawrence University, who delved beneath the glamour and glitz of the motion picture industry to ask if the tax credit the state gives film makers is worth it. Guess what he found?

Not to be out done, Vanderbilt’s Cameron Rohall also brought his “A” game last summer to question the expansion of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and why the state was leasing more and more space these days.

Oh, and how those legislators wait to the last minute to get some things done. Boston College’s Eric Sporel explained how the race for recess compromises transparency.

Michael Weiner, a Northeastern co-op student (we can’t get enough of them) wasn’t happy to hear that Boston was number one nationally for income inequality. Here’s what he had to say about it.

If you want to know what’s really going on at the Massachusetts State Lottery, the person to ask is Prasanna Rajasekaran, yet another Northeaster co-op student. He looked at the confounding relationship between advertising and profits and what the numbers really mean. Scratching your head over this? Better to scratch an instant ticket, since the cities and towns rely on those sales!

And our latest Northeastern Co-op student, Alex Carlin, started off with a bang, publishing the results of his audit of the state’s the public records law. The Boston Globe liked it a lot!


Find out trends in salaries through  It’s also good practice to visit MassReportCards before you make that offer on a house. Just how good is that neighborhood school? was recently upgraded just in time for town meeting – how does your town compare? And our latest transparency tool,, is a site you simply can’t miss – comb it for data and help us Fix the T!

Psst: Be on the lookout for – coming soon!

Contact Mary Connaughton, Pioneer’s Director of Government Transparency, with any questions: