MBTA

Baker tries to streamline transit improvements

— Photo by LuK3

— Photo by LuK3

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

‘It takes much longer in the U.S. than in other developed nations to build and repair public infrastructure, as my old friend Philip K. Howard, who chairs Common Good, has researched, and written about so well, in such books as Try Common Sense.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is in need of massive repairs and major subway and commuter train service expansion. So it was heartening to read that the public-private partnership aspect of Gov. Charlie Baker’s 10-year, $18 billion transportation plan includes provisions to streamline the procurement process.

The Boston Globe had an example of how stuff gets held up and things can be moved along at a faster clip.

“Most notably, the bill contains language aimed at avoiding what went down in Quincy last year: A development at the MBTA’s North Quincy Station ground to a halt after Attorney General Maura Healey ruled the T broke the law by not bidding out work for a parking garage that would be built there. A private developer was going to build the garage, but it would have ultimately been owned by the T.

“Baker’s bill would avoid another such situation by relaxing procurement rules to allow developers to move forward on a wide array of public transportation infrastructure — from staircases to stations — that would be part of their projects but deeded to the state or the MBTA. ‘’

One of the more interesting Baker administration proposals is to set up a new, $50 million program for a $2,000-per-employee tax credit for employers who let workers telecommute, thus reducing the pressure on Greater Boston’s often clogged roads during weekday rush hours. Of course, few managers would be affected.

To read more about the Baker plan, which of course would very much affect neighboring states, too, hit these links:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2019/07/25/baker-transportation-bill-aims-encourage-public-private-partnerships/gC5V38s7pOzcv2uzoVshCJ/story.html

https://www.wbjournal.com/article/baker-seeks-arsenal-of-tools-in-18b-transportation-bond-bill


Vegas on the Mystic

EncoreBostonHarbor.png

From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com


I doubt that the gigantic Encore casino complex on the Mystic River in Everett, that gritty old waterfront industrial city next to Boston, will steal much business from Twin River’s two Rhode Island casinos. Getting in and out of Boston, parts of which are often gridlocked, is too daunting, although I’m sure that many curious people from Greater Providence will check out Encore at least once. And it may lure a lot of tourists in Boston and Cambridge, e.g., people attending big medical and other professional meetings there who want some glitz and the adrenaline from gambling’s greed and fear, as well as very local gambling addicts who will henceforth spend much of their time in Everett, of all places, destroying their finances.

Meanwhile, maybe we’ll learn more about how to boost waterborne traffic in coastal cities by seeing how well Encore’s ferry service to the casino works.

Jim Folk, the casino’s transportation director, told WBZ: “It’s going to be great for the public. We’re going to actually be making connections from the South Shore where the MBTA runs service from Hingham and Hull into Boston and we can go and take those folks over from Boston to the North Shore.” Expand the epidemic!

The ferry will run seven days a week from about 7 a.m. to midnight on a triangular route connecting people to the casino, the World Trade Center, in the Seaport District, and Long Wharf downtown.

Fares will be $5-$7 depending on the route and will be open to the public, whether or not they’re going to the casino.

Anything to get people off the roads and the MBTA.


Keolis to resume MBTA weekend fare program


MBTA Commuter Rail locomotive at South Station.

MBTA Commuter Rail locomotive at South Station.

This is from The New England Council:

“Keolis North America, a New England Council member, has announced that beginning this month it will resume the $10 Commuter Rail weekend fare pilot program in partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Keolis is contracted to operate the MBTA’s Commuter Rail system, which provides rail service throughout Greater Boston and into Rhode Island.

This program was first piloted during the summer of 2018, with the goal of increasing Commuter Rail ridership and revenue on the weekends. This initiative resulted in more than 180,000 tickets being sold, and very positive feedback from passengers. Like before, this special fare will cover the first train on Saturday to the last train on Sunday, and will apply across all zones and lines.

David Scorey, general manager and CEO of Keolis, said, “The MBTA’s reduced weekend fare initiative gives passengers a convenient and affordable option to visit a number of great destinations across the greater Boston area. We’re pleased to partner with the MBTA to continue this initiative that encourages new passengers to try Commuter Rail, helps to grow ridership, and promotes an environmentally friendly transit option.”


The future of the MBTA

lnside South Station, Boston, the major MBTA commuter rail hub.

lnside South Station, Boston, the major MBTA commuter rail hub.

From Robert Whitcomb’s ‘Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Rhode Island and Massachusetts readers would do well to read The Boston Globe’s Dec. 5 article “Mass. officials have big ideas – and big decisions – for the MBTA commuter rail’’. Bay State transportation officials are pondering how the system should change over the next few decades, including route and station additions, service frequency, fare structures and equipment. The many Rhode Islanders who commute on the MBTA to and from Boston, mostly from Providence but some from points south, should read the piece. Please hit this link


Democrats' takeover of House might presage greener light for Mass. rail-service expansion

The now-derelict place where the proposed Fall River MBTA station would go.

The now-derelict place where the proposed Fall River MBTA station would go.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com

Readers notice and maybe complain that I put a lot of public-transportation stuff in these columns. That’s because of its centrality in the prosperity of southern New England.

It’s good news for passenger-train expansion that the Democrats took the House in in mid-terms. Such pro-mass transit Massachusetts congressmen as Richard Neal and James McGovern will be in a position as committee chairmen to push for federal aid to boost such projects as rail service between Boston and Springfield and Boston and Fall River and New Bedford. Those would ease highway traffic and wear and tear on our roads, saving taxpayers time and money, and lift our region’s economy.

Purple lines show routes of proposed new MBTA lines to Fall River and New Bedford.

Purple lines show routes of proposed new MBTA lines to Fall River and New Bedford.

It will be tough to get anything helping New England through the GOP-controlled Senate, but a foundation (or rail bed) can be laid for when the political environment changes, perhaps after the 2020 elections.

Would Trump and the narrowly GOP Senate cooperate with the Democratic-run House in enacting a bill that would include the aforementioned projects? In his campaign, Trump talked up a huge infrastructure program but once in office pretty much dropped the subject and concentrated on giving himself and his pals a big tax cut and trying to kill the Affordable Care Act. But then the current version of the GOP sees tax cuts, particularly favoring the rich, as virtually their only domestic policy.

Still, a swelling federal deficit, an aging population, crumbling infrastructure and increased military spending pose huge challenges. My guess is that in the next few years, the top marginal federal income tax rate will have to be raised to around 50 percent to pay for the services the public wants (if not needs) and to address the rapidly swelling national debt and associated higher interest rates. The bond and stock markets are without mercy. We can’t live in financial Fantasyland forever.

Readers may email rwhitcomb4@cox.net to make comments.

Robert Whitcomb: Boston transit trials and triumphs

MBTA trolley bus.

MBTA trolley bus.

 

From, Robert Whitcomb's Boston Diary, in The Boston Guardian, where a version of this piece first ran.

A  little historical perspective is needed as we whine about MBTA  delays and cancellations (especially during and after winter storms) and gridlocked street traffic.

The fact is that Boston  has much better mass transit now than it had, say, three decades ago. Most importantly, there’s a lot more of it available. And for all their occasional breakdowns, the MBTA subway cars, trolleys, buses and commuter trains are generally in better condition than they were when I lived in Boston fulltime, almost 50 years ago.  (These days I ride MBTA subways and commuter rail once or twice a month.)

And consider the South Station bus-train complex at the center of the MBTA empire: for decades a depressing, dirty domain for derelicts. Now it’s a spectacular intermodal center, served by more subway, commuter rail and bus lines than a generation  ago,  as well as by  Amtrak’s semi-high-speed Acela. I love that the MBTA’s still newish Silver Line will take you  directly to Logan Airport from the complex.

 

I can well remember when young having to wait for a bus  across the street from South Station --   a creepy area dominated by the dubious Essex Hotel and frequented by panhandling bums, sexual predators and sexual businesspeople, among my other pals.  (“Hey, cutie, have a light?’’) I had to take a bus because for a long time there were no trains to the South Shore, where I had relatives, the old New Haven Railroad having long since collapsed. Finally, the MBTA extended  rail commuter lines down there.

And the burying of the Central Artery and related Big Dig work has  often smoothed traffic and made downtown Boston more attractive and  thus more prosperous.

The rebuilding/expansion of the Back Bay MBTA-Amtrak station will further improve life for transiteers. The station now is dank, dark and cave-like – an unsettling entry for travelers entering the gorgeous Copley Square neighborhood.

Now,  if they could finally directly connect  South and North Stations so  that you could take an Amtrak or commuter train to north of Boston from south of it without having to  get off at South Station and go to North Station by MBTA, cab or Lyft or Ube -- the current ridiculous situation. And more ferries, please, including on the Charles River.

Of  course, Boston street traffic is  often horrendous.  That’s in part because  the city has a dense public-transit system, which makes it more prosperous, which brings in more businesses and individuals, which clogs the streets and spawns the need for more mass transit, etc.  At the same time, far, far too many people persist in driving their cars everywhere in this compact city.  

Uber and Lyft have also worsened traffic, by putting many more vehicles on the road to serve cell-phone dependents who might otherwise have taken the subway, trolleys or buses. Boston needs to get many more people into transport  that takes up much less room on the streets than all these cars with one passenger. That means we need more and better buses, not that I will ride in one.

Robert Whitcomb is president of The Boston Guardian, editor of New England Diary and a GoLocal24.com columnist.

 

 

 

Barry Schiller: A vision for better commuter rail service and links in southern New England

Via ecoRI News (ecori.org)

MBTA locomotives in South Station, the inbound terminus of commuter  rail lines from the south of Boston.

MBTA locomotives in South Station, the inbound terminus of commuter  rail lines from the south of Boston.

We all know Rhode Island benefits from its proximity to Boston, which provides our residents and businesses access to markets, jobs, entertainment, medical services and schools. But we are held back by problems related to getting there and back.

The roads are increasingly congested, and that slows buses too. There are accidents, and parking can be tough. Highway improvements are sometimes environmentally destructive and very expensive. For example, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation may spend about $300 million just to redo less than a mile of I-95 in central Providence. And we know we should reduce gasoline consumption, which drains money out of the local economy and contributes so much to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Amtrak Acelas are quick, but also expensive. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter trains provide access and we are “on track” to add a Pawtucket-Central Falls station so that those communities can better access Boston and the rest of the state. The MBTA also brings Massachusetts folks to Rhode Island, including a significant number of “reverse commuters” without clogging our roads and Massachusetts folks also use it to get to our airport.

But the trains are relatively slow, often taking about 70 minutes to go the 44 miles from Providence to Boston. Though there are 20 trains each way weekdays, and there can be inconvenient gaps between trains, more than 2 hours apart at times. And the service isn’t very reliable about being on time.

So a regional group called Transit Matters has developed a vision for how the commuter rail could better serve the region’s economy and environment. After looking at best practices elsewhere, notably Philadelphia and Paris, its main recommendations include: electrification; high-level platforms at all stations; more frequent service; free transfers to local buses and subways; infrastructure improvements at a few bottlenecks.

On the Providence line, where there already are electric wires used by Amtrak, we would need additional wires in just a few stretches, notably the Pawtucket layover yard. That would make those nearby happy not to have diesel-engine pollution or noise. Electric engines are quieter and cleaner, and accelerate quicker, speeding up trips. They are more reliable and last longer than diesel. After startup capital costs they have lower operating costs.

High-level platforms, missing in eight of the current 15 stations on our line, also speed trips by quicker boarding at stations, especially for those with disabilities. The time to get to Boston could be reduced to about 46 minutes. Speedier trips use equipment and labor more efficiently and would also generate more revenue by attracting more passengers.

Long term, Transit Matters recommends a rail tunnel connecting North and South stations in Boston. This would have many operational advantages, avoid the need for an expensive expansion of South Station, and connect Rhode Island to the North Shore and northern New England, and connect them to us!

There are obstacles, including finding the capital funds to do all this, harder with the Trump administration hostility to both our region for not voting for him and to trains with their highly unionized workforce.

The environmental community, though interested in promoting electric cars, has mostly ignored electrifying our commuter rail. It’s also a challenge to get two states, the MBTA and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to all work together and coordinate. But, there are a lot of benefits.

Barry Schiller, a transit rider and longtime transit advocate, is a former board member of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

To work and to play with a water view

MBTA commuter boat in Boston Harbor.

MBTA commuter boat in Boston Harbor.

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com
 

Whatever you think of the heavy government subsidy for the Providence-Newport summertime ferry, the service provides more than just a very pleasant way to travel between the two cities. With adequate promotion it could bring many more tourists to the region. And the service’s existence is a reminder of the big potential of traveling – including commuting – by water in densely populated Rhode Island, with so much water. In parts of Europe and Asia a place like Narragansett Bay would be crowded with ferry boats year round.Fr

Massachusetts Bay has long had successful year-round MBTA ferry service connecting Hingham and  downtown Boston, although, of course, that’s a richer and more heavily populated area. Not to subsidize the Providence-Newport long enough so that it helps create a traveling habit and becomes a model for other ferry service around here would be a false economy. And wouldn’t drivers on Routes 95 and 195 prefer to have more people onboats and fewer on the roads?

Meanwhile, the small and unsubsidized Newport-Jamestown ferry service operated by Conanicut Marine Services suggests that there could eventually be a plethora of such services linking  Narragansett Bay communities. The ferry has been particularly alluring in the past few weeks with reconstruction work on the Pell Bridge causing big delays.

 

Llewellyn King: Looking for a good pub; in praise of the MBTA; dearth of shoeshiners

NOTEBOOK

What makes a British pub a pub as opposed to a bar, café or cocktail lounge? It isn't, I hasten to mention, just the décor -- although the odd horse brass and a picture of a bulldog or two helps. It's how the establishment is used.

The trick is in the name “public house,” which could easily be interpreted as home away from home. The pub is an extension of your living room or office.

British friends will ask, “What’s your local?” or “Where do you drink?” Of course, the Brits are more likely to have a glass of something after work than are most Americans, these days.

When I lived in Richmond, a London borough, I drank at “The Cricketers,” and friends would meet me there. It wasn't about the drink; it was about the social context of a pub.

But here in New England, as befits our ancestry, you find the closest things to British pubs: cozy joints where friends hang out, nourished with beer, or not.

Thousands of New England bars function as pubs, not because they call themselves that, but because of a certain ambiance, a certain feeling that I'm already home.

As the Brits have changed, so have their pubs. Once, they were mostly owned by breweries and rented out to “landlords” who operated them. Now, more of them belong to chains and have standardized food. A “free house” was a pub that belonged not to the brewer or a chain, but to the landlord or a small company. These sold the beers of various brewers, like, say, Watneys, Bass and Theakston.

The biggest change has been the end of smoking. The pubs were often awful for nonsmokers. Now they are smoke-free -- although some have outdoor sheds, where you can still smoke, pint in hand. Otherwise, the drinkers spill into the street to light up. Mind you, British drinkers have always spilled into the street. Something you won’t find in New England pubs, probably because of licensing laws.

Another change was the addition of really good food in what have come to be known as “gastropubs.” I'd venture to say most New England pubs, worthy of that appellation, have pretty decent food.

The old British pub offered limited fare: pork pies, bangers, Scotch eggs and sandwiches. Now, more elaborate fare is available including excellent French meals, great Italian, and sometimes Chinese. At the latter, you may be offered French fries in lieu of rice. Really.

Recently, I chanced upon a New England pub that exactly fits the criteria established by its old English forebears: The Village Tavern in North Scituate, R.I. It has great food plus the ambiance of the real thing. It’s real to me.

 

Give the MBTA Its Due

I’m a fan of public transport in general, and of trains in particular. This extends to city systems and as a stranger to its peculiarities, but nonetheless a convert, I'd like to do the improbable: Praise the MBTA.

Too much of it is old, dirty and hard to navigate, but it works; whether it is the eccentric Silver Line from Boston to Logan International Airport (with its two versions of propulsion), or the subway proper, or the commuter lines. All cry out for investment, for kindly dollars for refurbishment and substantial rebuilding of the rabbit-warren stations.

But the MBTA mostly works, which can't be said of the modern and prettier Washington, D.C. Metro. It's in need of better maintenance, better management, and more trains at rush hours.

Let’s have two cheers for the MBTA which, like the New York system, isn’t easy on the eye, but mostly works.

 

The Strange Dearth of Shoeshine Stands

There are certain mysteries that confound me. Why can’t you find taxis cruising in Providence, is one. Another is why, throughout the region, is it so hard to get your shoes shined. Even at Boston’s busy South  Station the happy slap of the cloth on the leather isn't heard. Most stations and airports have shoeshine stands.

Chicago has one somewhere – I forget where — that even boasts that it's unionized. But the fine art of shining shoes isn't developed in these parts.

Over the decades, I've interviewed shoeshiners, almost all men, from London to New Orleans. I can report that they're a happy breed.

It's low-end work, but the potential for self-employment is great. Washington, D.C. has men who set up all over the place, but not New England. A singular exception is Thomas McNees, the shoeshiner at Rhode Island's T.F. Green Airport. He's an institution and as cheery as he's good. Unfortunately, he's on the far side of the terminal's security barrier — and even I won’t buy an airline ticket to get a shoeshine.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking1@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. 

 

Abandon all hope ye who enter here

Route 128 in Canton, Mass.

Route 128 in Canton, Mass.

Take cover! As part of a bridge project, Route 128 will be closed from the night of Nov. 4 through Nov. 6 in Needham, with trafficto be rerouted through local roads. Even though this will be on a weekend and with plenty of official warning, expect chaos! With all the whining about the MBTA, thank God that Greater Boston, unlike many U.S. metro areas, at least has a fairly dense mass-transit system to take pressure off the roads. If only it were denser.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Jim Stergios: Time to stop Boston mega-project mania

  Goya Giant I

One of Goya's Titan paintings.

BOSTON

Last year it was a billion-dollar expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, with an embedded $110 million giveaway to a hotel developer. This year it was the recently abandoned Boston 2024 Olympic bid. Now we’re talking about digging a tunnel to connect North and South Stations. Boston has a mega-malady, and it is a love affair with mega-projects.

Modern-day Massachusetts is acquiring a variant of French political sophistication, whereby Boston (Paris) is the showpiece and the rest of the state (France) is relegated to flyover status. Here are three quick facts to waken us from our dangerous flirtation with economic development in the grand continental style. The MBTA — buried under nearly $9 billion in debt and interest, and with a maintenance backlog of more than $7 billion — should focus on avoiding a replay of last winter’s horror story. A new tunnel does not make the MBTA’s list of top priorities.

Often lost in the heated discussions of particular parcels is the bigger question of what kind of a city we want to be. Cost realism has in the past reined in Boston’s appetite for megaprojects. In essence, that is what happened when the governor and legislative leaders commissioned a third-party evaluation of the Boston 2024 effort.

Former Gov. Michael Dukakis argues that the North-South Rail Link should be buildable for $2 billion, not the estimate of $8 billion. It should cost less, but it will cost more. We just learned that the Green Line extension is $1 billion over budget. No one has forgotten that the Big Dig was supposed to cost $2.8 billion, but ultimately broke the $15 billion sound barrier.

Cost estimates aren’t the only problem. Project benefits are routinely oversold. Exhibit A: The unrealistic pictures painted by convention center feasibility studies are legendary. The BCEC is doing between 30 and 40 percent of the business it was projected to do. Exhibit B: The Greenbush commuter rail line. Instead of, as projected, taking eight passengers off highways for each one lured from the MBTA’s South Shore commuter boat service, nearly half the current customers previously took the ferry. When those who rode other commuter rail lines are added in, more than 60 percent of Greenbush riders were already using public transit.

Rather than Boston’s mega-project megalomania, we need to return to a good old American sense of fair play. When Gov. Charlie Baker pulled the plug on the proposed BCEC expansion, he created an opportunity to do just that. Each year, tourism-related taxes generate tens of millions of dollars to underwrite the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority. Between now and 2034, these taxes will provide the MCCA with $30 million more annually than it needs to operate. After 2034, when the bonds sold to pay for the construction of the BCEC are paid off, that amount will more than double.

Anyone who has spent time in Massachusetts cities outside Boston knows that they have significant infrastructure needs, including roadways, retail spines, bridges, and sidewalks. For years the Big Dig left these cities starved of investment; it takes no sophistication to understand that the litany of Boston mega-project proposals would continue that trend.

Cost estimates aren’t the only problem.Project benefitsare routinely oversold. Infrastructure upgrades will not, by themselves, refashion the futures of Massachusetts’ cities. But together with reforms to public schools, policing, and economic policies, state investment can go a long way toward making them more attractive places to live and work. In fact, creating an infrastructure fund for these cities to leverage needed reforms would prove a powerful urban revitalization strategy.

Greater Boston needs its fair share of infrastructure investments — and right now MBTA upgrades are what can do the region the most good. State government must keep in mind, however, that more than half of the state’s population is outside Route 128. Forgoing an $8 billion Boston mega-project would allow infrastructure upgrades across Massachusetts.

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston­-based think tank. This piece originated in The Boston Globe.

Suzanne M. Bump: The myth of privatization as a panacea

BOSTON When it comes to regulating the privatization of government services, it seems that one person's mindless bureaucratic obstacle is another's essential accountability mechanism. Thus it is in Massachusetts, where an exemption from a state law governing privatization is being sought in the name of fixing Boston's troubled mass-transit system.

The policy debate over privatization in Massachusetts, which raged during the 1990s and 2000s, calmed down during the past two terms of a Democratic governor but returned to war-cry mode when the new Republican governor, Charlie Baker, proposed repealing the law as it pertains to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

As the state official charged with enforcement of what is known as the "Pacheco law," and from that perch rather than from the legislative battlefield, I offer these thoughts in contrast to those

While it is true that the intent of the law was to slow down outsourcing, it is not the blunt instrument depicted by its opponents. As I have noted elsewhere in response to other critics of the Pacheco law, it prevents agencies from basing outsourcing decisions on political philosophy by forcing them to explore alternatives to their current models and then base their choices on costs, desired outcomes, competitive bidding and value. A privatization plan can be approved when an agency is able to demonstrate that a private company can perform a government function at a lower cost without compromising quality, safety or effectiveness.

And contrary to the assertions of critics, the law has not made privatization all but impossible. Since its passage in 1993, 12 of the 15 privatization plans reviewed by the state auditor holding the office at the time have been approved, and of the three that weren't approved two had been advanced by the MBTA.

The law's critics say that the standard for calculating the public-private comparison is at fault, but that was not at issue with the MBTA's proposals. Privatization of bus-shelter maintenance was rejected because of the MBTA's inability to say how many shelters would be covered by the contract, making it impossible to determine a fair price for the work. Proposals to privatize two bus operations and maintenance facilities were also turned down because the MBTA could not demonstrate that privatization would actually save money or improve quality, since its plan also called for shifting some work to other MBTA facilities. The MBTA could have sharpened its thinking and its pencils and re-submitted plans that could have passed muster, but it chose not to.

While my review of these proposals does not weigh this factor, I hope that policy-makers also would consider how effective the MBTA's oversight of any new privatization contracts is likely to be. Its recent record is one unlikely to inspire confidence. Audits subsequent to the 1996 privatization of the MBTA's real-estate-management operations, for example, questioned millions of dollars of payments to the private company performing the work that were either improperly billed or went to projects that were never completed.

The list goes on. Other audits have uncovered huge cost over-runs and delays in MBTA station-modernization projects; $15 million worth of undocumented fuel payments to the private operators of the MBTA's RIDE paratransit program; and a $94 million automated fare-collection system that for five years could not accurately count the day's receipts.

That kind of performance should give those who reflexively advocate privatization a lot to think about. It's important to keep in mind that nothing is free: When a government operation or service is outsourced, the taxpayers will still be paying the bills. They deserve the kind of accountability that laws like Massachusetts's are designed to provide.

Suzanne M. Bump is the state auditor of Massachusetts.

 

Pressing on with South Coast Rail

  By JOYCE ROWLEY, for ecoRI News

NEW BEDFORD

“We're forging ahead,” Jean Fox, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's project manager, told the South Coast Rail Task Force at its Feb. 25 meeting, when questioned whether the change in administration would affect the South Coast Rail. “We’ve got our marching orders and we’ve not been told otherwise.”

The 20-year-old South Coast Rail (SCR), now in its preliminary design stage, has chugged along despite a protracted planning and environmental review. Last summer, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority () awarded a $12 million preliminary design contract to the engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, with an option for a $210 million 10-year final design and construction contract.

“It’s pretty exciting. The goal was to get approximately 15 percent design completed by June 30, 2015,” Fox said. “We’re on target for tasks.”

In January 2014, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a final environmental impact statement for an electric train line that will extend the existing MBTA Stoughton commuter rail line. Passing through the 2,000-acre Hockomock Swamp on an abandoned rail bed to , the new branch will split in Berkley. The main line will connect to New Bedford on existing freight tracks, and a branch will continue to Fall River.

But record snowfall beginning with the first storm on Jan. 26-27 left the T demobilized throughout Greater Boston, leaving some at the meeting questioning the viability of the project.

“Is the state thinking of spending $3 billion on a new line when the T hasn’t worked well for a month?” asked Kyla Bennett, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Fox said that $2.3 billion was allocated in the state transportation bond last year to build the SCR. Fox said they would be meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration about the project soon.

“Our goal is to sit down with them and see where we fit in," Fox said. “It’s a transportation priority and has been for several years. We can show a cost-benefit analysis of the transportation, environmental and economic development potential for the project.”

Blame for the T’s winter problems has been laid at the 9 feet of snow that incapacitated commuter lines to Worcester, Springfield, Lakeville and Stoughton; at the use of T parking lots by residents who had to stay off the streets during parking bans which then left T commuters with no place to park; on outdated equipment on some lines that couldn’t make it through deep snow.

Now, over a month later, all commuter rail lines are still on revised schedules. It remains to be seen whether promises to get the entire system in order by March 30 can be met.

In a interview with ecoRI News later, Bennett questioned the allocated amount of funding, as well as the wisdom of spending billions of dollars on a rail line that may not be used.

“I think the $2.3 billion is a vast underestimate,” she said. “Public records requests to get the most recent cost estimate were denied.”

Her group won on appeal to the state, but then only received the estimate with minor modifications. The estimate hasn’t changed much since the 2011 draft, Bennett said.

“I don’t know how much it will cost to fix the T, let alone what it will cost to do both,” she said. “The reason this matters is because if it is more, then that’s even more that we won’t put into fixing existing infrastructure.”

Transportation justice SCR Task Force Chairwoman Susan Teal disagrees. The Rochester resident said both maintenance of the existing lines and development of the new branch are needed.

“There's plenty of money for both,” Teal said at the recent meeting.

All other major cities in Massachusetts tie into Boston via rail, except Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River. All three are “Gateway Cities” and all three have consistently pushed for the connection.

Most proponents of the rail expect it will make a connection to Boston and jobs, but will also help draw businesses to the region. In fact, regional planning agencies the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Old Colony Regional Planning Council show anticipated growth in surrounding communities.

“Just look north to Lowell to see what rail does for a community,” Fox said. “It brings in higher-paying high-skilled jobs and builds new housing stock.”

Nearly $2 million in technical assistance grants to 31 communities over the past seven years has promoted the SCR’s “Smart Growth” planning efforts to mitigate potential impacts in advance. In fiscal 2015, the MBTA spent $353,830 on technical assistance to communities under SCR’s program.

Smart growth is a buzz-phrase for planning to minimize sprawl and reduce vehicle trips, and resulting greenhouse-gas emissions. It includes building transit-oriented development that reduces the need for additional highway infrastructure.

“Smart growth has been impactful and productive,” Fox said.

Bennett questioned the anticipated greenhouse gas-reduction benefits that the SCR may create. Instead, she said the money would be better spent creating jobs in the three targeted cities so people could work where they live.

“People are going to pay $500 to $600 per month to travel four hours on a train for what jobs in Boston?” Bennett said later. “Taking cars off the highway even if there is ridership won’t necessarily make a difference. Cars backfill in the highway when people realize there’s more room.”

Next month, the MBTA will begin construction of independent utilities, including grade crossings and a rail bridge at Wamsutta Street that will serve active freight. These components of the project need to be built even if the SCR isn't completed, according to Fox.

Robert Whitcomb: Film tax credits, stadiums and 'mud season'

  Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker wisely proposes to end that state’s film/TV-production tax credits. Perhaps it will get more Rhode Islanders thinking about such dubious projects as what I call 38 Studios Memorial Stadium, proposed for downtown Providence. (Readers would do well to read the March 9 Wall Street Journal article “Pro Stadiums, Public Money’’.)

In lieu of the gift to film and TV producers, Mr. Baker wants to expand the state’s earned-income tax credit, which helps poor people. That’s broad enough policy to perhaps help the economy of all of southern New England.

The Massachusetts film/TV tax credit goes back to 2005, when movie star and Massachusetts native Matt Damon pushed the idea. Legislators and then-Gov. Mitt Romney put in a law in that made film-and-TV-production companies eligible for sales, income and corporate-excise-tax credits. The giveaways were expanded in 2007 under then-Gov. Deval Patrick.

The math never added up for the state, much as politicians and others loved being photographed with movie stars and Boston gossip columnists loved writing about them. And, yes, it’s been nice for a few show-biz folks actually based in Massachusetts – while keeping money from people in other sectors and from, for example, MBTA repair.

Robert Tannenwald, a former Federal Reserve Bank of Boston economist who now teaches at Brandeis, analyzing state Department of Revenue data, told The Boston Globe that ‘’each full-time-equivalent job created by the credits and filled by residents has cost the commonwealth $118,000 in foregone revenue. For each dollar of foregone revenue, Bay Staters have earned only 53 cents in additional income.’’

And The Globe’s Joan Vennochi noted (“Good riddance to the Mass. film tax credit,’’ March 8): “{O}nly about one-third of the $304 million in spending generated by the tax credit{s}was spent in Massachusetts; and of nearly 2,000 jobs created by the tax credit{s}, only about one-third went to Massachusetts residents.’’

I think of film and pro-sports stadium scams when I drive around Rhode Island, with its Third World roads, crumbling bridges, decayed public buildings and other signs of infrastructure decline.

Those promoting special deals for favored individuals and businesses depend on the public not doing the macro-economic math. The fun for the favored few has to be made up in taxes paid by the unfavored and by not maintaining services and infrastructure used by everyone, thus hurting the economies of the jurisdictions handing them out.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island should focus on creating a fair, simple and transparent tax systems and on investing in physical infrastructure and services that help as many people as possible, not sexy economic special-interest groups and celebrity ego trips.

With the states’ superb location for doing business in the international market, famous educational institutions that directly and indirectly churn out technological innovations, and natural and manmade beauty, they can succeed without handing out special deals. Let the rich build the likes of stadiums entirely with their own money.

xxx

With the snowpack slowly melting, I recall this from Alan H. Olmstead’s book “In Praise of Seasons’’ about winter’s end, desired more than usual this year:

“Addicted to the thermometer, we are precariously indifferent to other standards for living. The fire stands off the ice; we run the season’s gauntlet between them, one half of us always a little too warm, the other on the verge of being too cold. We come near the end of our passage without much feeling of any kind, a surly numbness with the world as we would never have made it.’’

New England’s ''mud season'' is much maligned, but the prospect of softness underfoot, even a squishy softness, is happy. Finally, we’ll see the ground, the mud will dry out and the brown will change to green to soothe us for weeks, until we all too quickly take it for granted.

As Mr. Olmstead wrote:

“When, at last, spring starts to emerge, we know it first by a restoration of respect for things about us, a rebirth of loyalty to life, a softening of our partisan judgments, an ending of our harsh loneliness.’’ Briefly.

 

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com), overseer of this site, is a partner in Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a health-care sector consultancy, and a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. He's also a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune and former editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal.

 

 

 

Charles Chieppo: Olympics bid has a Big Dig ring

  This piece was first published in The Boston Globe. We use it with the permission of our friend Mr. Chieppo.

BOSTON The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has yet to restore normal service after cold and snow that was the straw that finally broke the system’s back. Yet proponents of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics are already pushing a proposal that harks back to the expansion policies that helped bring about the T’s  severe troubles.

At first, Boston 2024 organizers claimed that transportation improvements already in the pipeline would be the only Olympic-related cost to taxpayers. But when pushed, it became clear they meant any projects included in a $13 billion bond bill then-Governor Patrick signed last year. The problem is that bond bills only authorize the commonwealth to borrow money; just a fraction of the projects in them actually fit within state borrowing limits. A recent Globe story showed that some of the projects in Boston 2024’s successful bid to the U.S.  Olympic Committee aren’t even in the bond bill, and only a portion of the included projects are funded. Completing them all would roughly double the $4.5 billion that proponents claim taxpayers would have to kick in to host the games.

How quickly we forget. In 1991, the commonwealth committed to build a laundry list of transit expansions as environmental mitigation for the Big Dig. But no funding source was identified for any of them. As a result, building, operating, and maintaining the mitigation projects ran up more than one-third of the $9 billion the T owes in debt and interest.

Redirecting money from maintenance to expansion to pay for the projects is one reason for the authority’s maintenance backlog, now estimated at a stunning $6.7 billion, and for the recent systemwide meltdown.

State leaders must avoid letting organizers turn the Olympics into Big Dig mitigation 2.0. Among the many projects included in Boston 2024’s bid are South Coast Commuter Rail, extending the Fairmount commuter line to Newton, and expanding South Station. For those projects alone, more than $3 billion is currently unfunded.

Commuter rail featured prominently in the 1991 mandates. Required expansions included extensions to Newburyport, Worcester, and Plymouth, and construction of the Greenbush Line to the South Shore.

It is up to state leaders, not Olympic boosters, to plan the region’s transportation future. But a recent Pioneer Institute study by former state Inspector Gen. Greg Sullivan (full disclosure: I am a senior fellow at Pioneer but was not involved in preparing the report) revealed the folly of allowing mandates to dictate transit policy.

Sullivan looked at 18 American commuter rail systems and found that the T’s was the only one that lost ridership between 2003 and 2013. Despite all the expansion, MBTA commuter-rail ridership fell by a stunning 13 percent over a decade. The finding reiterates the direct relationship between investing in maintenance and the reliable on-time service that attracts riders.

No project captures the madness of transit policy by mandate better than Greenbush. Since the federal government wanted no part of it, the entire tab of nearly $600 million was picked up by the Commonwealth.

Greenbush was projected to take eight passengers off highways for each one that had previously used the MBTA’s South Shore commuter-boat service. Instead, about the same number of the line’s riders were lured from the ferry as from area roadways. When those who previously rode other commuter rail lines are added in, more than 60 percent of the line’s meager ridership was already using public transit.

Common sense dictates that new lines should be added only when there is enough money to build, operate, and maintain them without cannibalizing existing assets. To be sure, a number of the projects Boston 2024 organizers tout are important maintenance investments, including MBTA signal and power system upgrades. But it is up to state leaders, not Olympic boosters, to plan the region’s transportation future.

Those boosters are backpedaling furiously in the wake of revelations about the real cost of Olympic-related transportation upgrades. The group’s CEO, former state transportation secretary Richard Davey, told the Globe that the only transportation enhancements really needed to host the games are new Red and Orange Line cars that are already slated for delivery beginning in 2018. That’s quite a departure from their official bid.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s not run the risk of repeating Big Dig mitigation’s devastating impact on the MBTA by allowing Olympic dreams to dictate the next generation of area transit policy.

Charles Chieppo is principal of Chieppo Strategies, a public policy writing and communications firm.

James P. Freeman: Boston dies at 394

  JULY 4, 2024

With an air of inconsolable sadness, the Boston City Council announced today, on the anniversary of the republic’s birth, that the City of Boston passed away after a long illness. It was 394 years old, six years short of what would have been its 400th birthday.

While the cause of death was not immediately disclosed, it is widely believed that one of America’s oldest municipalities expired after complications arising from morbid obesity (collapsing from the weight of massive unfunded liabilities) and asphyxiation (suffocating on uncontrollable borrowing). Boston was to play host to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, which were largely financed with debt and taxes. The opening ceremonies and the official competition, now cancelled, were due to commence later this month.

Whimsically referred to as “The Hub,” it also suffered from congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease. A complicated and expensive procedure was undertaken in 1991 to unclog its central artery. Known as “The Big Dig,” and thought to create a future unfettered, it provided only temporary relief by creating a double by-pass (the Tip O’Neill Tunnel and Ted Williams Tunnel).

It was finally completed in 2007, after 16 years and costing over $14 billion, well over the original $2.6 billion estimate. Plagued by administrative incompetence, mitigation payments and political corruption, that project, with a cruel irony, was to be finally paid off 14 years from now. Like many patients arrogant with self-indulgence, bad behavior contributed to its ruination.

Boston is predeceased by Detroit, MI, Jefferson County, AL, Orange County, CA, Stockton, CA, San Bernardino, CA, Bridgeport, CT and Central Fall, RI. Those cities suffered similar symptoms, ultimately succumbing to overextended obligations.

Founded by Puritan settlers, in 1630, on egalitarian political idealism and a revolutionary character, its members’ lives were structured by limited resources and stark morality. An early observer of America’s burgeoning democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote that the  Puritans were governed by “austere principles.” Such a peculiar genius seems remarkably quaint by today’s evolving standards of propriety. And those once-vaunted values guided that pioneering fervor to The Boston Tea Party and early support for Abolition, a sampling of its importance to American history as a beacon of liberty. But that libertarian spirit waned as a progressive wave dominated much of the 20th Century.

In the years preceding its failure Boston was the 24th largest city in the United States. Public communication often took place in the Brutalist-styled City Hall, before the bannered backdrop of a sign that read: “Thriving, Healthy, Innovative.” And so fiscal pathologists and actuarial planners were lamenting over the demise of a city thought to be a postcard of urban health.

In 2015, the last year for which records are available, the city’s budget was $2.7 billion. Despite its sterling bond ratings, it was reported to have over $6 billion in unfunded pensions and retiree healthcare liabilities, according to the Boston Business Journal.

Additionally, it also had over $1 billion in outstanding debt. Over 14,000 active city employees were supporting 10,000 retirees, who, on average, were receiving $36,000 annually.

A closer inspection of the books indicated an ever increasing portion of its budget was dedicated to pension and debt service, stripping the city of its ability to cover more discretionary spending. Demographic changes also showed an increasingly aging workforce.

Given this backdrop, it was surprising Boston submitted a bid for this summer’s games in 2014 (it was awarded them in 2017). Organizers originally proposed a $4.7 billion operating budget with total a cost projected well above $10 billion. Despite assurances by then-Mayor Martin Walsh that no public funds would be used to finance the games, and despite a significant infusion of private money, the city in fact was forced to pay a substantial part of the cost. With this additional burden -- and absence of adequate accountability and transparency -- the city was unable to continue as a going concern.

Expressions of sympathy began arriving from around the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., cities not chosen by the U.S.  Olympic Committee. Heartfelt condolences were received also from Denver, originally selected to host the 1976 XII Olympic Winter Games, but relinquished holding that Olympiad when voters rejected its financing. Boston voters were never given that opportunity.

Mourners discerned a sort of political synesthesia over the last decade of its life. A mayor elected by popular vote in 2013 was against allowing a public referendum on the games in 2015. A clause in the agreement signed by the mayor and Olympic organizations forbid city employees to oppose the proposal. Of greater consequence, an elite group of private citizens usurped power properly held by public officials. The tension in Boston’s ancestral sinews became evident, stretching between its old Yankee parochialism and new modern internationalism.

In lieu of flowers, forensic experts and financial advisers have requested that donations be made to a financial collection committee, established in bankruptcy proceedings. It was determined that Boston’s insolvency would be better managed by liquidation instead of another restructuring. Among the creditors are 40 public unions that were once ardent supporters of the games.

Boston is survived by the collective memory of its glorious founding.

Visiting hours have been cancelled since widespread street closures and parking bans in Boston proper and surrounding neighborhoods were implemented as Olympic protocols. Infrastructure investments never materialized because the MBTA, the public transportation agency, for decades severely mismanaged, went into receivership in early 2018.

Advance copies of the Order of Service reveal that the recessional hymn will be “M.T.A.,” popularized by The Kingston Trio and originally recorded as a campaign theme song in 1949 for Progressive Party Boston mayoral candidate Walter A. O’Brien. It speaks of a sorry passenger who was trapped in the city’s subway system, with a pause in its choral phrasing allowing audience call out… “Poor Old Charlie” and “What a Pity.” A fitting coda for the organizers of Boston 2024.

 

James P. Freeman is a Cape Cod-based writer

 

Charles Chieppo: MBTA hole gets deeper

BOSTON The recent news that the estimated cost of an ongoing Boston-area subway-line extension has risen from $1.4 billion to nearly $2 billion surprised exactly no one. The more-than-two-decade history leading up to this most recent cost overrun contains a lifetime's worth of cautionary tales for state and local governments.

Almost everyone reading this should have some familiarity with Boston's "Big Dig." After all, you probably helped pay for it. The project included taking down an unsightly elevated roadway and running it underground, extending the Massachusetts Turnpike to Boston's Logan Airport and constructing a bridge over the Charles River. When it was finally completed in 2007 (nine years late), the original $2.8 billion price tag had swollen to $14.6 billion, more than a quarter of it covered by federal taxpayers.

Less attention has been paid to the court-ordered construction of 14 transit-related projects as environmental mitigation for the additional traffic the Big Dig would accommodate. Twenty-three years after the 1991 mandate, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) owes nearly $9 billion in debt and interest, almost half of which can be attributed to the transit-mitigation requirements. If not for a series of fare hikes in recent years, the MBTA would pay more in debt service than it collects in fares.

Cost overruns on the current 4.5-mile extension of the MBTA's Green Line are a microcosm of why the mitigation requirements have been a disaster. Engineers encountered more than 500 "utility conflicts" along the corridor. Then there are the add-ons: A community path for bikers and walkers and more drainage for a river that was long ago covered by landfill but apparently still wreaks havoc during rainstorms. It's mitigation for the mitigation.

Payments to the design contractor jumped by more than half because platforms had to be extended to accommodate longer trains than had been envisioned 23 years ago. That's what you get with government by mandate.

And since the MBTA had to dedicate so much money to financing the mitigation projects, corners had to be cut elsewhere. A large concentration of MBTA vehicles are approaching or have surpassed their useful life. If you can't get down to Havana to watch the parade of pre-1959 American-made cars, just take a ride on a Boston-area commuter train. Old rolling stock means compromised reliability.

That  it's impossible to know what system priorities will be more than two decades down the road is just one lesson governments can draw from the unmitigated disaster of Boston's transit mitigation. The first lesson is that it's a spectacularly bad idea to mandate the construction of billions of dollars worth of new projects without a funding source.

But construction expenses are only part of the picture. Projects should be budgeted based on the cost of building, operating and maintaining them over their lifecycle. If that had happened in Boston, seeing more realistic numbers might well have resulted in some of the projects being eliminated.

Lifecycle budgeting also reduces the temptation to skimp on maintenance. The MBTA faces a maintenance backlog that topped $3 billion in 2009 and has only grown since. In the transit authority's fiscal 2010 budget, just six of 57 maintenance projects that received a safety rating of "critical" could be funded.

Budgeting based on transportation projects' real costs makes it less likely that government officials will be put in the position of robbing Peter to pay Paul by skimping on maintenance and not replacing assets in a timely manner. Forcing planners to take a clear-eyed look at real project costs might cut back on the ribbon-cuttings that politicians so enjoy, but it would result in infrastructure that functions better and lasts longer. And it might just avert disasters such as the one that the MBTA is facing.

Charles Chieppo is a research fellow at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School.  This originated at Governing Magazine's Web site, governing.com

Carolyn Morwick: Mass. session boosts transport, higher ed

This is one of a series of reviews of  2014 New England legislative sessions by Carolyn Morwick, writing for the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org).

 

In 2013, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was often at loggerheads with legislators on big-ticket items, including education funding and transportation. In 2014, the atmosphere was more cordial. Just prior to the close of the 2013-14 legislative session, lawmakers sent a $36.5 billion  fiscal 2015 budget to the governor.

The governor and legislators agreed on a spending plan with no new taxes, despite a limited revenue stream. They generally agreed to make investments in the state’s transportation system, restore cuts to the higher education system and reform the system that pays for human services providers.

Patrick vetoed $16 million in line items, all but one of which legislators overrode. The governor also asked lawmakers for authority to make unilateral spending cuts if necessary. But lawmakers would not go beyond the current “9C powers” that allow a governor to make cuts in the budget without the approval of the Legislature if it’s determined that state revenues are not sufficient to support spending in the budget that's been approved.

Included in the 2015 budget:

  • a $34 million increase in early education and care programs, much of it targeting Income Eligible Child Care, which has a substantial wait lists for families
  • $1 million for the K-1 Classroom Grant program that will fund new pre-K classrooms with an emphasis on "Gateway Cities"
  • a 2.7% increase in funding for K-12 with total funding for K-12 at $155 million (still nearly $75 million below pre-recession levels)
  • a 2.3% increase in Chapter 70 education aid to cities and towns or approximately $99 million
  • a $70 million increase for public higher education
  • $4.7 billion for MassHealth Managed Care
  • $3.2 billion for MassHealth Senior Care
  • $88 million for children’s mental health services
  • $436 million for adult mental health services—a 4% increase over FY14
  • $184 million for mental health facilities—a 5% increase over FY14
  • $112 million for substance abuse and addiction services
  • an increase of $125 million over FY14 for the state’s transportation system
  • an increase of $3.6 million for library programs (even with the increase, funding for libraries fell by 46% because of $3 billion in tax cuts dating back to FY 2001
  • a provision for a Tax Amnesty Program expected to raise $35 million
  • a delay in implementing the FAS 109, a special deduction included in legislation to lower the corporate tax which was enacted in 2013. The delay postpones the loss of nearly $46 million in corporate income tax revenue.
  • an increase in salary for the state’s 11 district attorneys from $148,843 to $171, 561.

Higher Education                                                                       

The FY15 budget continues reinvestment for a third year in the public higher education system. Spending for higher education is approximately $70 million above FY14, but still 21% below the FY 2001 level.

The total amount for public higher education for FY15, is $998 million including $519 million for the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts, almost $230 million for the nine state universities and $249 million for the 15 Community Colleges.

For the second year in a row, funding in the budget for UMass will allow for freezing tuition and fees. However, the same 50/50 formula designed to split the cost between state appropriations and student tuitions was not applied to the state universities and community colleges, where officials warn that student bills will go up by several hundred dollars.

The State Scholarship Program got a $3 million increase in the FY15 budget, while the High Demand Scholarship program to encourage degree completion in disciplines that are deemed to be critical shortage was level-funded at $1 million.

The budget also funds the STEM Starter Academy at $4.7 million for community colleges, $3.2 million for the Performance Management Set Aside Incentive Grant Program to allow the Department of Higher Education to continue with grants to promote operational efficiencies at community colleges, the state universities and UMass in meeting the goals of the Vision Project.

The budget establishes a Foundation Budget Review Commission to review the state’s methodology for determining school district foundation budgets. The current foundation budget was designed more than 20 years ago and is out-of-date. The budget calls for the new commission to conduct four public hearings in different parts of the state and report back to the Legislature by June 30, 2015.

Other Legislation Passed

The Legislature continued to increase funding for the state transportation system and capital improvements on the  Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Regional Transit Authorities, while working to end the practice of borrowing money to pay for the MBTA.

Near the close of the session, legislation was passed which strengthened gun laws. The new law gives police chiefs the authority to turn down a resident’s request to purchase a rifle or shotgun if they have reason to believe the person may be a danger. It also makes Massachusetts part of the National Instant Background Check System to provide a rapid response about whether a person is suitable to possess a license for a gun. Another provision of the new law requires that data be collected on all guns used in crimes or that cause injuries.

In response to the Supreme Court overturning the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law for access to reproductive health clinics—and at the urging of Atty.  Gen.  Martha Coakley—lawmakers passed legislation giving public safety officials the power to clear access to the clinics. The prior law provided a 35-foot buffer zone, which the court rejected; the new law restricts protesters to 25 feet.

An Act Establishing the Childhood Vaccine Program

Creates a stable financing framework enabling Massachusetts to guarantee that all children up to age 18 receive all the vaccines recommended by the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The legislation will allow access to all recommended vaccines for children and fund the Massachusetts Immunization Registry, which assists providers in keeping immunizations up-to-date.

An Act Restoring the Minimum Wage and Providing Unemployment Insurance Reforms

Gradually raises the minimum wage to $11 over three years, lowers unemployment insurance (UI) costs for employers across the state, strengthens safety protections for workers and makes permanent the multi-agency task force charged with combating the underground economy where tens of thousands of workers, many of them undocumented, are paid under the table, thereby avoiding payment of taxes.

An Act Establishing a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Extends basic work standards and labor protections to approximately 67,000 nannies, housekeepers, caregivers and other home workers in the Commonwealth.

An Act to Promote Economic Growth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Provides for increased job growth and economic stability by investing in advanced manufacturing, IT workforce training and “Big Data” innovation. It will provide $15 million for a Gateway Cities Transformative Development Fund for economic revitalization and $10 million is slated for the reuse of brownfields in economically distressed areas. The legislation creates an advisory council to boost the financial services industry in Massachusetts.

An Act Relative to the Broadband Institute

Allows the Massachusetts Broadband Institute to use a $50 million bond for expanding broadband infrastructure.

An Act Relative to the Expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center

Approves borrowing $1.1 billion to accommodate a 1.3 million square foot addition to the center, which would allow Boston to be host to larger conventions.

An Act to Foster Economic Independence

Provides a pathway for low-income families to become self-sufficient, especially those who are receiving “cash assistance.” The pathway will include job readiness, the development of life skills and English-as-a-second language. Over $15 million in aggregate funding improvements to the Department of Transitional Assistance for additional caseworkers and the Department of Higher Education for program evaluations and scholarships. Additional legislation introduces a “full employment program” and more effectively identifies welfare fraud as part of a companion bill.

Carolyn Morwick handles government and community relations at the New England Board of Higher Education and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.