Massachusetts

State law declares abortion illegal in Mass.

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

You probably think of Massachusetts as one of the most liberal states. So you’d be surprised to know that a 173-year-old state law declares abortion illegal there, despite Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that created a federal right to abortion across America.

The Bay State law prohibits “procuring a miscarriage.’’ To address that, the Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act would remove the statute; Governor Baker says he’d sign the measure into law.

Massachusetts is one of 10 states that still have old abortion bans – albeit unenforceable -- still on the books; all pre-date Roe v. Wade. But the Republican-dominated Supreme Court might reverse Roe in the next year or two and limit abortion-law making to the states, which, after all, traditionally had control of such things. Because of Roe, the state law obviously can’t be enforced now but with growing chances that Roe will be overturned, there’s a strong impetus in some states to get rid of these old anti-abortion statutes fast.

Flowering reuse

"The Bridge of Flowers,'' in Shelburne Falls, Mass.    -- Photo by FFM784

"The Bridge of Flowers,'' in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

-- Photo by FFM784

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

There’s a lot of abandoned infrastructure in New England. After all, we’re an old region. It’s always pleasant to see old structures reused in ingenious ways. Take the Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, in western Massachusetts. This is a lovely arched concrete railroad span built in 1908 by the evocatively named Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway Co.

The bridge was abandoned in 1927 because of the financial woes of the company and was quickly overgrown with weeds. But within a couple of years, local volunteers came up with the idea of carting soil onto the bridge and turning it into something that they named the Bridge of Flowers. It became a tourist attraction, with a great diversity of blooms through the growing season.

So important -- psychologically, sociologically and economically -- had the  Bridge of Flowers become that when in the early ‘80s, the bridge required major repairs, locals came up with more than half a million dollars to fix it. Volunteers continue to plant and care for the plants

Heartening reuse. You could to say the same thing about bike paths on old railroad rights of way, although it would be better for the environment and economy if some of these old routes were instead passenger rail lines again. Even the famous East Bay Bike Path, in Rhode Island.

Mass. legislators to take up some hot issues

The famous Massachusetts State House, designed by Charles Bullfinch and completed in 1798.

The famous Massachusetts State House, designed by Charles Bullfinch and completed in 1798.

From The New England Journal of Higher Education, part of The New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org):

Two weeks into fiscal 2018, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a $39.4 billion spending package that increases spending by 1.7 percent over the prior year. He vetoed $320 million from the budget, including $222 million in spending for MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. Baker has proposed reforms to MassHealth including a “gate” that blocks eligibility for full-time workers who have access to affordable health coverage through their employers. The pared-down budget contains no new taxes or fees. Other features of the budget are listed as follows:

$3.5 million for new State Police division that focuses on homeland security, criminal intelligence and counterterrorism

$6 million for gang-prevention initiatives called “Shannon Grants”

An increase in funding for the Department of Children and Families by $9.8 million to support 450 new employees.

Language to allow casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.

Transfers $127 million in operating funds to MBTA and adds $60 million in new capital funding.

In the new session, when legislators will tackle issues associated with MassHealth, including eligibility and trimming Medicaid costs. Other issues include immigration and criminal justice reform. Legislation called the “Safe Communities Act” would impose sharp limits on cooperation between local police and federal immigration officers.

The Legislature will also take up criminal-justice reform, AirBnB (online marketing and hospitality service) and issues regarding “distracted driving.” Lawmakers may also take up Baker’s vetoes in the FY18 budget.

Legislation Passed and Signed Into Law

Office of Technology Services and Security Will Be Part of Governor’s Cabinet

HB 3731 Filed by Gov. Charles Baker Pursuant to Article 87, Amendments to the Constitution.

An Act to Reorganize the Information Technology Function of the Commonwealth to Improve Data Security, Safeguard Privacy and Promote Better Service Delivery

Office of Information Technology (MassIT) to be re-established as the Executive Office of Technology Services and Security, led by a new secretary of technology who will be part of the governor’s cabinet.

Legalizing Marijuana

HB 3776   An Act to Ensure the Public Health and Safety of Patient and Consumer Access to Medical and Adult Use of Marijuana in the Commonwealth

Revises the ballot question that was approved by voters and sets a 10.75% state excise tax on recreational marijuana that would be assessed on top of the state’s regular 6.25% sales tax. Local communities can also tack on an additional 3% tax on pot sales, totaling a 20% tax. Medical marijuana would remain untaxed.

Working Conditions for Pregnant Workers

S 2093 An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act

Offers pregnant women reasonable accommodations, including more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor or modified work schedules.

Transportation Projects

H. 3648 An Act Providing for the Financing of Certain Improvements to Municipal Roads and Services

Authorizes $200 million in Chapter 90 transportation funds for municipalities across the Commonwealth in this construction season. Chapter 90 transportation funding supports reimbursement of municipalities for road-related construction projects and comes from general obligation bond issuances.

Opiates, Treatment, Education

H. 4056  An Act Relative to Substance Use, Treatment and Education

Includes numerous recommendations from the Governor’s Opioid Working Group, including prevention education for students and doctors. This is the first law in the nation to establish a seven-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions.

Electric Cars

S. 2505    An Act Promoting Zero Vehicle Emission Adoption

Works to increase access to zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) charging stations for the general public by prohibiting owners of public charging stations from charging users a subscription or membership fee and requiring the use of payment options available to the general public. The legislation also allows municipalities and private businesses to restrict parking spaces specifically for ZEV use.

Economic Development

H. 4569    An Act Relative to Job Creation and Workforce Development

Provides tax credits to promote investments in new companies, creates a commission to examine online gaming in Massachusetts, and encourages workforce development by extending to families a new tax deduction tied to college savings plans. The SoarMA initiative makes 529 college savings accounts available to families of eligible seventh-graders from five pilot schools. Funded through public and private partnerships, every account will be seeded with $50, and families must save at least $100 in the first year to become eligible for matching funds up to $500 saved toward future college tuition payments. At the present time, funding for the program is in question and proponents hope to resolve the issue during the legislative session.

The bill also establishes an “angel investor tax credit” to encourage early investment in new companies. Investors would be able to receive an income tax credit of 20% of their investment in qualifying Massachusetts businesses that have no more than 20 full-time employees and $500,000 in revenues. For fledgling businesses located in the state’s 26 “gateway cities” where educational attainment and median income are below the state’s average, the credit totals 30% of the investment.

Additional Legislative Action

Millionaire’s Tax Approved, Measure Ready for November 2018 Election

On June 14, 2017, Massachusetts lawmakers voted to approve an amendment to the state Constitution, known as the Fair Share Amendment, which would impose a 4% surtax on millionaires. The measure will go on the 2018 November ballot. The surtax would apply only to portions of income over $1 million. The state’s current income tax rate is 5.1%. The 4% surtax would raise an estimated $2 billion per year for education and transportation.

K-12 Funding

The budget includes a 2% increase in funding or $4.74 billion in Chapter 70 aid to cities and towns, which reflects a minimum spending increase of $30 per pupil for 322 operating school districts. Overall Chapter 70 aid increases by $119 million. Also included in the budget is a $38.5 rate increase for Early Education Care. The budget level-funds charter schools reimbursement at $80.5 million.

Higher Education Funding

The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees raised tuition and fees by 3%. As a result, students will pay $416 more in the coming academic year. All five campuses will share a pot of $3.3 billion for FY18, which falls short of the requested amount.

The State University Incentive Grants (originally funded for $2.5 million in the House budget and $2.9 million in the Senate budget) were eliminated in the compromise budget.

Language was included in the final budget authorizing the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to allow accredited, degree-granting institutions in Massachusetts to deliver distance-education programs to other states who are part of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). SARA is a program of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Free College

Building on the Commonwealth Commitment program and the city of Boston’s Tuition Free Community College initiative, which were both established in 2016, a new pilot program called the Boston Bridge is available to all 2017 high school graduates who live in the city of Boston, including students from Boston Public Schools, charter schools and parochial schools. The city of Boston and the Commonwealth together will cover students’ tuition and fees, after taking into account federal Pell grants, from the time a student enters community college to when they graduate from a four-year public college or university. Students who enroll in Boston Bridge must major in one of the Mass Transfer pathways, which ensures that credits earned in any community college are accepted at any public four-year institution. Pathways include biology, chemistry, economics, history, political science and psychology.

Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures.

 

 

 

Warren: Trump budget would whomp New England's economy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D.-Mass.) remarks to the New England Council last week included her saying that:

President Trump's  proposed budget cuts would be “devastating” to Massachusetts, such as the "meat axe'' against the National Institutes of Health. Massachusetts is a huge bio-tech center.

She said that Mr. Trump’s executive actions on immigration “threaten how we have really built an economy in New England going forward”.

“It’s a serious problem because it hurts our families, it’s a serious problem because it has the potential to hurt our economy, but it’s a serious problem because it threatens how we have really built an economy in New England going forward, with our colleges and our universities, with our innovation economy, with our tourism economy.''

 

Mass. and N.H. top US News's "Best States'' rankings, winter and all

 

Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H. New England winters help keep out the worst bugs and tropical diseases.

Apple orchard in Hollis, N.H. New England winters help keep out the worst bugs and tropical diseases.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's 'Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

Yet again, after many decades of Sun Belt hype, we have another measure of how the generally northern and mostly Blue States are, by important metrics, the best states to live in. That’s largely because of their tradition of strong education and infrastructure. US News & World Report’s first ranking of the best states list in the top 10: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Washington State, Iowa, Utah, Maryland, Colorado and Vermont. (Connecticut was 12th, Maine 18th and Rhode Island 21st.)

The publication said:

“Some states shine in health care. Some soar in education. Some excel in both – or in much more. The Best States ranking …draws on thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens. In addition to health care and education, the metrics take into account a state’s economy, the opportunity it offers people, its roads, bridges, Internet and other infrastructure, its public safety and the integrity and health of state government.

“More weight was accorded to some state measures than others, based on a survey of what matters most to people. Health care and education were weighted most heavily. Then came the opportunity states offer their citizens, their crime & corrections and infrastructure. State economies followed closely in weighting, followed by measures of government administration. This explains why Massachusetts, ranking No. 1 in education and No. 2 in health care, occupies the overall No. 1 spot in the Best States rankings. And it explains why New Hampshire, ranking No. 1 in opportunity for its citizens, ranks No. 2 overall in the Best States rankings.’’

The low-tax (except for their regressive sales taxes) low-public-service Red States in the South generally did very poorly.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and a very able executive who’s expected to run for re-election next year, said:         

“We have a lot of really smart people, we have a lot of great schools. That has led to a whole series of terrific what I would call ‘ecosystems’ around technology and health care and finance and education. And you put it all together, and in this day and age, in this kind of global economy and global world we live in, it’s a terrific mix.” Of course, Massachusetts has had some great institutions since the 17th Century; it had a running start.

Mr. Baker will probably get some credit for the ranking, but the essentials of the Bay State’s health have been in place for a long time.  Governors and U.S. presidents have remarkably little impact on the economic health of their jurisdictions;  there are far too many variables.

As for New Hampshire, it has the overwash of wealth from the very rich Greater Boston area, the Granite State’s good public education, political integrity, local  and state civic-mindedness, a tradition of  having many well-run small and medium-size companies and industrial craftsmanship. And as  befits a state that is mostly suburban, exurban and rural,  lower taxes than Massachusetts’s.

US News folks did note that Massachusetts, despite of, or because of, its very low unemployment rate, had too little “affordable housing’’ (whatever that means exactly) and very wide income inequality. But the latter is due largely to the vast wealth collected by the senior execs and shareholders of very successful enterprises founded in, based in or with major operations in the Bay State and the large number of well paidvphysicians, engineers, financial-services honchos and other very highly skilled professionals.

Another advantage of New England: It's so far north that tropical diseases rarely make it to the region. There are some advantages to having the cool snap we call "winter.''

More leaf-chomping on the way for this spring in New England

Hillsides in a gypsy-moth infestation.

Hillsides in a gypsy-moth infestation.

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com

Scientists say that the gypsy moths will be back in force this spring to continue the devastation of the southern New England woods we saw last year. The ecological changes wrought by New England’s long drought are blamed.  The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation reported:

“Recent drought conditions have limited the effectiveness of a soil-borne fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga, which has helped keep gypsy moth populations in check since the last large outbreak during the 1980s.”

 I remember driving through vast swathes of virtually leafless trees early last summer around Worcester. In a way, the openness, combined with the ground-level greenery, was exhilarating -- until you considered it a bit more. I wonder how many trees would die if this infestation occurs more frequently, with, say, global warming.

Let's hope that conservation folks don't obey a public outcry to aerial-spray the hell out of these creatures, and in so doing kill many other creatures. 

 

Massachusetts's nice problem to have

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

Massachusetts’s jobless rate in December was 2.9 percent and the state’s average wages are among the highest in the nation. Massachusetts employers need more skilled workers to staff the many well-paying and sophisticated jobs available in the Bay State. That its public schools are probably the best in America, and that the state hosts world famous colleges and universities, helps to churn out great workers. But so successful are so many Massachusettscompanies that they’re desperate for more highly skilled workers. In a sense, a nice problem to have!

 

Program to help fix Mass. dams

Via ecoRI News

 

Massachusetts officials recently announced $10 million in funding to assist communities and groups statewide in addressing deteriorating dams and refurbishing critical coastal infrastructure. The money will support engineering and construction phase work for seven dam repair projects, five dam removal projects and eight coastal protection reconstruction projects.

The program will award $2.91 million to Attleboro, Fall River, Gardner, Gloucester, Holbrook, the Jones River Watershed Association, the Kestrel Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Scituate, the Sherwood Forest Lake District, Westfield and Weymouth for dam projects, and nearly $7.7 million to Marshfield, Plymouth, Quincy, Salem, Scituate and Yarmouth for coastal-protection projects. 

The following are the dam projects:

Gloucester ($500,000, $500,000 low-interest loan)
The Haskell Pond Dam is owned and managed by the city as part of its water supply network. The dam is a high-hazard structure in poor condition. This 43-foot-high, 480-foot-long structure was built in 1902. This award will provide funding for the construction work necessary to refurbish the structure to ensure compliance with state law. This project was previously funded with $175,000 to support engineering, permitting and the development of construction documents.

The Nature Conservancy ($257,055)
The Carver Cotton Gin Mill Dam in East Bridgewater on the Satucket River, a tributary of the Taunton River, is rated a significant hazard in unsafe condition. The concrete structure is 10 feet high and 44 feet long. It’s the first dam from the ocean without fish passage, and removal is part of a multi-partner effort to connect major tributaries of the Taunton River with the main stem, Narragansett Bay, and the ocean. Removal of this dam will enhance public safety, create a navigable waterway for small boats and re-establish connections to large spawning areas for numerous fish species.

Attleboro ($250,000)
The Dodgeville Pond Dam is a significant-hazard structure in poor condition. This award will support the rehabilitation of the structure. While the structure is privately owned, the city is committed to having this structure refurbished as part of a larger master plan for improvements. The impoundment that it creates and the backwater along the Ten Mile River provide recreational opportunities. The city recently received a state grant from the Gateway Cities Parks Grant program to provide riverside walking and biking paths along the Ten Mile River. Preserving and Dodgeville Dam/Pond is needed to maintain water depths along this section of the Ten Mile River that will be part of the Riverwalk.

Scituate ($225,000)
The Hunters Pond Dam, also known as the Mordecai Lincoln Road Pond Dam, is the first dam on the Bound Brook system and is located at the head of tide in the Gulf River estuary. The dam is in poor condition and rated as a significant hazard. The Hunters Pond Dam is the primary impediment to fish passage on the Bound Brook system and its removal will promote the recovery and increase in diadromous fish populations by restoring access to spawning and rearing habitat.

Jones River Watershed Association ($223,000)
The Elm Street Dam is owned by the town of Kingston, and this project will plan for its removal. The dam is a significant hazard in fair condition. The dam forms the head of tide on the Jones River creating an obstruction to tidal flow into upper reaches of the river. This creates a backwater of tides below the dam resulting in an increase of downstream bank overtopping. The dam contributes to poor water quality and even with a fish ladder, this dam blocks fish from passage upstream to historic spawning grounds. The removal of the dam will improve conditions for river herring, rainbow smelt, eastern brook trout, American shad and American eels.

Kestrel Land Trust($215,000)
The Lake Warner Dam in Hadley is owned by the land trust. The dam is classified as a significant hazard and is in poor condition. The dam at Lake Warner, also known as North Hadley Pond, has been part of the historic village center of North Hadley for more than 350 years and is greatly valued by local residents. This project will restore the structural integrity of the dam.

Holbrook ($207,750)
The Lake Holbrook Dam is a 300-foot earthen dam with a paved roadway across the crest. The dam is classified as a significant hazard and is in poor condition. The dam has numerous deficiencies that compromise the safety of the roadway and homes and businesses downstream. This project will help bring the dam back into compliance with safety standards.

Westfield ($163,800)
The Tekoa Reservoir Dam, built in 1873, is on Moose Meadow Brook in Montgomery. The dam impounds a reservoir that can provide water for the city of Westfield but hasn’t been used for this purpose for many years. The city has determined that the reservoir is no longer needed as a potential water supply; therefore removal of this 32-foot-tall, 200-foot-wide dam is in the best interests of the city and its residents by reducing the costs of owning and operating unnecessary structures.

Weymouth ($150,000)
The Weymouth Great Pond Dam was built in 1884 and is a key component of the city’s water supply. The structure retains a 450-acre reservoir and is classified as a significant hazard and is in fair to poor condition. This award will support the engineering and design for a series of repairs and improvements.

Fall River ($119,853)
The Rattlesnake Brook Dam is owned by the Fall River Water Department and is located in Freetown. The dam doesn’t provide benefits for water supply and is now a liability for the city. The dam is in unsafe condition and has created a downstream situation where there are multiple unmanaged stream channels. There is currently no operational way to control water level. A partial breach has also been reported. Removal of this dam will create a more stable downstream channel configuration and protect Narrows Road 500 feet below the dam. The project will also naturalize stream processes and open the brook to migration to trout from Assonet Bay for miles upstream to cold-water habitat in the upper watershed.

Gardner ($67,400)
The Wrights Reservoir Dam impounds Mahoney Brook to form Wrights Reservoir. The dam is classified as a high hazard. The structure is part of the Gardner Local Protection Project flood-management system built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s for flood protection of important industrial properties along the Mahoney and Greenwood brooks. The project will repair the dam and bring the structure into compliance.

Sherwood Forest Lake District ($52,500)
The Lancelot Lake Dam in Becket is classified as high hazard and is in poor condition. This award will support the planning and engineering phase of the project to return the dam to safety standards.

The following are the coastal protection projects:

Marshfield ($2,500,000, $500,000 low-interest loan)
The money will be used for Phase II of a seawall repair project along the shoreline of Massachusetts Bay in the Fieldston section of Marshfield. Phase I of the project, completed in 2015 and funded through a prior grant, included design and permitting for the entire Foster Avenue Seawall and implemented the replacement of the existing seawall between Old Beach Road and 9th Road. The Phase II project includes updating the existing design package, bidding and replacing the existing concrete seawall along Foster Avenue between 9th Road and 3rd Road. The structure is deteriorated and this section of the Foster Avenue Seawall is assigned a condition rating of poor and a high priority. This project addresses the last remaining portion of the original 1931 structure and will complete the reconstruction of the seawalls protecting this densely populated area.

Marshfield ($139,000)
The money will be used to design and obtain regulatory approvals for the reconstruction and improvements to an approximately 600-foot-long section of deteriorated seawall on Ocean Street near Brant Rock. The structure protects Ocean Street, adjacent residential areas and associated utilities from storm damage. The existing structure has become increasingly deteriorated. Ocean Street is the primary access through the area connecting the communities of Brant Rock and Ocean Bluff with major state highways and is also an evacuation route during storms.

Scituate ($2,500,000, $500,000 loan-interest loan)
The money will support the construction phase of a 640-linear-foot section of the seawall and revetment. During major storm events, this area of Oceanside Drive is heavily flooded and inundated with overwash consisting of large cobbles and sand, which in turn results in compromised public access and safety and the temporary closure of the roadway and cross streets. In recent years, there have been occurrences where first responders have been unable to respond to house fires and other emergencies in the area bevcause of extreme flooding.

Plymouth ($810,993)
The money will repair and reconstruct portions of the 720 linear feet of retaining wall fronting a vertical concrete seawall about 2.5 miles southeast of Plymouth Center. A series of severe northeast storms caused continued lowering of the fronting beach and moderate damage to the revetment. Although the seawall and retaining wall have remained intact, previous repairs didn’t return the structure to its “as-built” condition. More recent work re-established the retaining wall to design conditions; however, portions of the revetment have settled over the past 10-plus years as the beach continues to lower, allowing wave action to destabilize portions of the revetment.

Plymouth ($93,563)
The grant will support design and environmental permitting services for the reconstruction/upgrading of about 900 linear feet of retaining wall primarily fronting the Plymouth Long Beach parking lot and Route 3A. The existing vertical concrete seawall has failed at several locations and doesn’t provide an appropriate design for the lowered condition of the beach.

Quincy ($441,000)
The grant will support the final design and permitting costs for repairs and improvements to about 6,000 linear feet of seawall along the northern shore of Adams Shore and Houghs Neck. These structures protect the shoreline, residential homes, public utilities, and critical transportation and evacuation routes. The seawalls will be repaired and raised to accommodate future sea-level rise and impacts from the changing climate, including increased frequency and intensity of storms.

Salem ($143,625)
The grant will support the design and permitting for the repair/replacement of an approximately 60-year-old deteriorating, concrete seawall at the eastern boundary of Forest River Park. The existing seawall is part of the city’s Canal Street Flood Mitigation Project. The Canal Street Flood Mitigation Project is a $20 million project that has received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency with a goal of reducing flooding in the Canal Street and Salem State University O’Keefe Parking Lot.

Yarmouth ($77,500)
The grant will support the design and permitting for an approximately 500 linear foot section of deteriorating revetment at Bass River Beach. The structure protects the adjacent dunes and provides public access via a parking lot, boat ramp, and fishing pier.  The structure also protects the western shore of the river from the Bass River Beach as well as the eastern edge of the Bass River entrance channel.

 

Amidst kitsch and the drive to show off, a Quaker aesthetic still survives in the prepster Brigadoon

 

The Nantucket Island license plate appropriately displayed on a Land Rover, a classic off-road SUV for navigating Nantucket's cobblestone streets.

 

Can the precious island made wealthy by Quaker ship owners and whalers, but now the purview of Ralph Lauren-clad hedge-funders, stand any more cuteness? Would that the hauntingly beautiful island rebel against yet more trite merchandising of this demi-paradise of cedar shingles and windswept moors. Once, the ultimate status symbol was an over-the-sand permit for the bumper of a Jeep, or better yet, an old Land Rover. Now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has offered another bit of snobbery with a special license plate.

           

 

Even so, the new plate is not nearly as exclusive as the various out-of-state vanity plates that are seen on the island. Imagine the pride of the Mr and Mrs Gottrocks, summer residents from somewhere near the horse country of Morristown, N.J., constantly announcing their second domicile on their Audi "Afrika Korps" urban assault vehicle.

Clearly the appeal is for more than the 10,000 or so locals, and anyone across the state can get a Nantucket Island plate for their car. It is a desirable trinket for those who regard the Far Away Land as nirvana – a place of Nantucket baskets, Nantucket red khakis, red brick sidewalks, and more take offs and landings at the airport in the summer than Boston's Logan. $28 of the island plate's $40 fee does go to non-profits that help children, but one wonders if there were not another way to raise charitable contributions than a design that pimps the island's history

          

  Massachusetts paid a Boston brand consulting firm in Boston to glop up a license plate with several fonts. Thank goodness, the identifying NI and numbers are embossed – other states would have offered a tableau of Moby Dick in full-on Nantucket sleigh-ride mode. But no kudos should go to Nantucket artist David Lazarus for his confusing and complicated logo of a sperm whale superimposed on a detailed map of the island.

Such silliness makes a mockery of the centuries-old Quaker aesthetic that gave Nantucket such a strong design identity,as  in the house below.

nan5.jpg

 

 

William Morgan is a contributing editor at Design New England magazine and is the author of such books as Yankee Modern and The Abrams Guide to American House Styles.

 

 

 

 

Lia Spiliotes: To narrow N.E. rural healthcare gaps, boost nurse practitioners

Rural America lives with layers of demographic and geographic obstacles to health care, and not surprisingly, rural Americans face bigger health challenges than their urban and suburban neighbors. Berkshire County, the second most rural county in Massachusetts, is no different.

More than residents elsewhere in the state, our neighbors and communities struggle with high rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and addiction to smoking and other drugs. The suicide rate in Berkshire County was the highest in the state in 2013, and admissions to mental-health facilities are above the norm.

Berkshire County mirrors other remote rural geographic regions in the nation, where recruiting primary-care providers is an ongoing challenge of economics, retirement, the allure of specialty medicine and big-city compensation. In these areas, the supply of primary-care physicians falls below federal standards. (Kaiser Foundation 2015).

The good news is that the education, experience and quality of physicians and nurse practitioners at Community Health Programs in Berkshire County, where I have been interim CEO since January, is on par with any of the best healthcare organizations in which I have worked in Massachusetts. Equally important is the work we are doing to educate patients about the front-line role that nurse practitioners play in the delivery of high quality primary care. Increasingly, patients understand that nurse practitioners are excellent partners in providing primary care.

National studies have shown that patients assigned to either nurse practitioners or primary-care physicians have comparable health outcomes. More than a dozen states — including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — have long-since passed measures freeing nurse practitioners from physician oversight in treating, diagnosing and prescribing medication to patients.

States that have already done so show fewer emergency-room admissions, improved health status, and better overall healthcare experiences. Yet in Massachusetts, physician organizations have resisted giving nurse practitioners sufficient autonomy to practice to the full extent of their training. We need to maximize the use of nurse practitioners as a vital healthcare resource.

This lack of full practice authority for nurse practitioners has broad implications for healthcare access in Massachusetts, particularly in underserved communities. Competition for primary-care providers is intensifying. Physician salaries at community health centers, which serve mostly lower-income residents, remain 25 to 30 percent below entry-level salaries at many hospitals and private physician practices.

Outdated practices

At rural health centers, which continually struggle to attract providers away from urban areas, the impact is even more profound if nurse practitioners cannot provide the full range of patient care. The health of rural communities is compromised by policies that protect outdated ways of delivering primary care.

The role of nurse practitioners should grow as our health system moves toward the team-oriented, patient-centered care approaches — the foundation of post-Affordable Care Act healthcare delivery. Often referred to as the patient-centered medical home (PCMH), this coordinated model emphasizes a critical shift to staying well, not just getting better.

In addition, care for higher-risk patients with chronic needs, who account for so much of our overall healthcare spending, is better managed. In states that have lifted restrictions on nurse practitioners, early data show a reduction in ER admission rates, improvements in residents’ health status and increased patient satisfaction.

The time has come for the Massachusetts legislature to pass House Bill 1996/Senate Bill 1207. The bills, which draw upon guidelines developed by the Institute of Medicine, would remove barriers preventing nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists from practicing to the full extent of their training. The bill also ensures that Massachusetts can meet workforce demands, address gaps in access to care and adopt new care models tied to healthcare delivery and payment reforms.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, of the 2,050 rural U.S. counties, 77 percent are designated as health- professional-shortage areas. Around 4,000 additional primary- care practitioners are needed to meet current rural healthcare needs. There is no single fix to meeting the health needs of rural Americans, but by elevating the role of nurse practitioners, we believe we can begin to close the gap.

Lia Spiliotes, a Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com) partner and senior adviser, is interim chief executive officer of Community Health Programs, the Federally Qualified Health Network in Berkshire County, and serves on the board of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. This piece first ran in The Berkshire Eagle.

James P. Freeman: Why Mass. AG Healey should be ousted

In his dutiful and forceful concession remarks in November 2014, John Miller, the Republican candidate that year for Massachusetts attorney general, gave fair warning: “The fight for impartial, fact-based justice from a non-partisan attorney general goes on.” Miller, even in defeat, believed – and presumably feared — that the Bay State was still in “desperate need” of an attorney general who would take a “professional, not a political approach” to the office.

His fears are confirmed.

In June of 2016, it is now evident that the winner that November night, Maura Healey, is using her office to punish those whose views of public policy differ from her own. As a consequence, Healey is no longer fit to hold the office of attorney general.

 

As reported last week, Healey is now using the power of her office to investigate conservative groups with supposed ties to ExxonMobil. Her subpoena charges that the oil giant lied to shareholders and consumers about the risks of global warming in its communications and shareholder filings.

Healey is seeking 40 years-worth of ExxonMobil documents and communications with right-leaning “think tanks.” Locally, these include the Beacon Hill Institute and Acton Institute. According to The Boston Herald, the basis of the investigation is “deceptive business practices.” The energy company countered by filing a federal lawsuit claiming, rightly, that Healey’s action is no more than a “fishing expedition,” part of a “political agenda,” and the attorney general is “abusing the power of government.” It is a disgracefully overt political maneuver.

Remarkably, both the Left and Right have been critical of state attorneys-general engaged in this scrutiny of ExxonMobil. Harvey Silverglate, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, called the investigation “pure harassment.” Added Silverglate, “It’s not the way scientific or factual or even political battles are settled in this country, which last I checked is still a free country.” The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel wrote that the attack on ExxonMobil is really a “front,” and that the real target is “a broad array of conservative activist groups.”

So this is what we have come to in Massachusetts: a hyper-partisan attorney general, motivated by political expediency, who believes that ExxonMobil defrauded the public and its shareholders by systematically advancing the idea of “climate denial.” Seriously.

Where is the outrage on Beacon Hill? Where is the outrage from the prestige media in greater Boston?

Perhaps more so than any other Massachusetts elected official – including Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Healey is the penultimate programmed progressive. Her core belief-system centers around identity politics and so-called diversity… of everything; except political thought.

On her Web site, maurahealey.com, Healy calls herself the “People’s Lawyer” (she is, apparently, the lawyer of all of the people, except, that is, conservative people). In a January posting she brags that she is “looking ahead to the challenges around the bend and we’re already pushing hard on our top priorities.” ExxonMobil’s thoughts on so-called climate disruption are a priority for the people of Massachusetts?

Healey’s behavior is reminiscent of the Lois Lerner and IRS scandal from a few years ago. Then, as now, conservative groups were targeted under a legal pretense. If Healey’s actions were based in fact and based on the law, warranting the full force and authority of her office, why hasn’t she called for the complete divestiture of ExxonMobil investments by the state’s pension system (which in 2015 was valued at $151 million in the Domestic Equity portfolio)?

 

Among the first official undertakings by Healey in 2015 was a social-media “campaign.” It involved the collection of testimonials from same-sex couples for an amicus brief that was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, supporting national recognition of gay marriage. However laudable, such time and expense amounted to a political lagniappe but not a legal imperative.

In Massachusetts, it seems identity politics is a greater priority than identity theft, which should be a priority.

Identity theft – the unauthorized use of personal information to defraud or commit crimes – is the fastest-growing crime in America. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security notes that victims spend “between 30-60 hours of their time” and “approximately $1,000 of their own money clearing up the problem.”

The Boston Globe noted two years ago that 1.2 million people in the Commonwealth had personal information and financial data compromised in 2013. In February 2015, a “data breach” occurred at insurer Anthem, compromising personal information of 78.8 million Americans. One million of those reside in Massachusetts.

But don’t tell that to Healey.

On mass.gov/ago, victims are cautioned: “You should be aware that not all identity-theft complaints can or will be investigated.” These people, unlike ExxonMobil, will likely not be accorded a vigorous campaign. What is unsettling is that Healey and fellow progressives believe they can effectively combat climate disruption to their satisfaction but not identity theft.

Healey will probably not resign from office. She also probably not be impeached under the articles of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As a last resort, however, she should be recalled. Interestingly, the voter initiative and referendum provisions in the constitution specifically exclude the recall/removal of judges. But the Constitution is silent regarding recall/removal of executive branch officers.

Let the petition begin.

James P. Freeman is a columnist for The New Boston Post.

James P. Freeman: Mass. in '15: A state of hope and (fiscal) peril

 

It is right there
Betwixt and between
The orchard bare
And the orchard green


— Robert Frost from “Peril of Hope”

With an eerie prescience, the Jan.  9, 2015, front page of The Boston Globe captured perfectly the mixture of fear and anticipation associated with the hope a new year brings. Two headlines above the fold – “Boston picked to bid for Olympics” and “Baker promises firm fixes, sensitive touch” – would set the tone for 2015 in Greater Boston.

Boston 2024 Partnership, the consortium of business and political interests (so-called “thought leaders”) to bring the 2024 summer Olympic games to The Hub, underestimated Bostonians’ capacity for common sense and overestimated Bostonians’ tolerance for large municipal projects. (Didn’t anyone remind planners of the Big Dig experience?) Residents rightly feared costs would be socialized and any profits would be privatized by special interests. The bid was rescinded in July.

Charlie Baker was sworn in as Massachusetts’ 72nd governor within hours of the Olympic announcement. No politician campaigned on the Olympics but it consumed precious time and energy from more mundane and serious matters, such as the opioid emergency, which rages on unabated (1,256 people – likely more this year – fatally overdosed in Massachusetts in 2014). Alarmingly, more people die  in Massachusetts from overdoses than from car crashes.

Boston broke the record for snowiest winter on record, with 108.6 inches. But the MBTA was broken long before 2015 from decades of incompetent government oversight. With melting irony, man could not make the trains run during the blizzards but a train actually ran without a man this December in Braintree, due to “operator error.” Baker must restore the entire system to ensure a second term.

The New England Patriots earned their fourth Super Bowl championship in February, amidst the faux-scandal of Deflategate (which is now being taught as a class at University of New Hampshire). A federal judge determined that the NFL went too far in suspending quarterback Tom Brady. In May, some suggested that Salem State University went too far in paying him $170,000 for a one hour “lecture.” But don’t tell that to the local media, which cover the team by way of sports jingoism, not journalism.

It took a jury in April nearly 26 minutes just to read the “guilty” verdict on all 30 counts against unrepentant terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the Boston Marathon bombing trial.

Irish rockers U2, who lived through the terror of “The Troubles,” charmed the town with four sold-out concerts this summer, as “#BostonStrong” was featured prominently on a massive vidi-wall during their encores.

Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and David Ortiz announced this post season he would retire in 2016. Their recognition and retirement mark the perilous end of an era of Boston baseball dominance. Perhaps no other players were better catalysts of hope for a despondent Red Sox Nation before 2004.

Two films about Boston’s ugly underbelly proved to be, in many respects, largely for Boston; another cathartic exercise in order to exorcise criminality. “Spotlight” chronicled the unspeakable and unimaginable clergy sex abuse cover up, and “Black Mass” showcased Whitey Bulger. Each affirmed that evil can reside both in men of the cloth and the cleaver.

After nearly a century, Cambridge-based Converse unveiled the long-awaited Chuck Taylor II sneakers.

After 20 years since the first charter school was opened in Massachusetts, with some municipalities having reached their quotas, many want a reset, a Charter 2.0.

Atty. Gen. Maura Healey, prodigal progressive, concluded that more regulation (of course) would be best for Boston-based fantasy sports league website DraftKings (and FanDuel). But former Gov. Deval Patrick, promiscuous progressive, discovered free enterprise by joining the investment firm Bain Capital.

In November, the financial news Web site 247wallst.com ranked Massachusetts as the best place to live among the 50 states. General Electric thinks so, as it imagines what a world headquarters might look like in Boston as it contemplates relocation from Connecticut for lower taxes and closer proximity to the area’s innovation ecosystem.

This autumn, the Oxford Dictionaries determined that its word of the year was, in fact, not a word, but a pictograph. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji according to Oxford lexicographers, “best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupation of 2015.”

In retrospect, then, Frost got it partially right. Time — and 2015 — might best be defined as an alloy of peril and hope.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former Cape Cod Times columnist. This comes via the courtesy of The New Boston Post. 

For some of his previous columns, read:

- See more at: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/30/the-year-2015-and-the-peril-of-hope/#sthash.VrgyiQQu.dpuf

Charles Chieppo: Can Mass. get its tax giveaways under control?

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Sarah Savage/Erin M. Graves: 'Financial capabilities' for college

BOSTON

Community colleges have traditionally responded to the financial needs of their students by removing or minimizing financial barriers to attending. Efforts to make community college tuition free fit with this philosophy. But where efforts to minimize or remove financial barriers to attending community college fall short is in empowering students to navigate the next financial crossroads they encounter, to make well-informed financial decisions that will decrease their vulnerability as students and to position them with the tools for achieving financial wellness as they progress through life.

Empowerment work that helps students manage their financial lives can be described as building their "financial capabilities." The intention of this work is to teach students effective money management, savings and planning techniques but also to provide opportunities to apply what students learn, which is critical to developing positive financial habits. More commonly referenced "financial literacy" remains relevant but is more often associated with knowledge transfer and skill development than application and behavior change. Empowerment work is intended to build students’ capacity.

While engaging with students in this way is new territory for most community colleges, it is an emerging area in which some institutions have already developed expertise and observed significant benefits. To illustrate, the Boston Fed’s Financial Capabilities Group describes the experiences and insights of eight community colleges from around the country in its new Community College Handbook, released as part of the group’s Community College Initiative.

The need to help students develop skills and confidence to manage their financial lives effectively, to provide real ways of doing this and to deliver services when students are most likely to have opportunities to put what they learn into practice is evident from the institutions’ experiences.

In one example, a financial aid staff member at a community college in Florida helped pilot a peer-to-peer effort over concern that while financial aid was relatively easy to come by, students lacked clear guidance on how the aid could best be utilized. The pilot began on a small scale, with three work-study students approaching peers leaving the financial aid office with their refunds, engaging them in discussions about plans for their refunds, and encouraging them to divide purchase decisions into “needs” versus “wants.”

This pilot grew to include a multicampus, well-funded Financial Learning Ambassador Program that delivered timely and tailored guidance on money management techniques through a peer-to-peer model. By identifying times when students are most likely to make financial decisions, staff and students implementing the program could ensure the relevancy and timeliness of content (e.g., demonstrating “shopping on a budget” and setting up resource tables around the time when financial aid refunds are dispersed).

Motivated by similar concerns for financial well-being, community colleges based in New Mexico and Baltimore County sought to address students’ financial needs beyond educational costs and identified comprehensive financial coaching as part of the solution. Staff at one institution observed that in addition to academic challenges, students were already struggling with day-to-day financial needs and therefore less able to plan for the future.

Likewise, many students attending community college in Baltimore County not only live below the poverty level but also lack tools to manage their finances. While one institution offers financial coaching as part of a comprehensive financial stability center model that bundles education and employment services, work and income supports, and financial and asset-building services, the other offers coaching only. The Handbook’s case studies go into depth on how the respective institutions decided which services to offer.

Two community colleges in Oregon and Arizona took a different approach. In an effort to address their students’ unmet financial needs and to help them develop positive financial habits, these institutions offer educational matched savings programs that match student savings at an established rate (e.g., 1 to 1 or greater). After meeting program milestones such as making a specified number of consecutive savings deposits and completing a certain number of hours of financial education classes or workshops, students can use their savings and matching funds to cover approved educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, and supplies.

These programs have required concerted efforts by external partners, funders and institutional staff. In these cases, administrators and staff members committed to this level of collaboration because they saw the value in not only helping students pay for educational expenses but also to complete the program with much higher quality financial decision-making abilities than when they started.

These case studies along with others featured in the Boston Fed’s Handbook provide examples of new ways of responding to the financial challenges community college students face. The studies demonstrate how previous approaches to minimizing challenges—while well-intended—have not historically enhanced a student’s ability to independently overcome the next challenge they are likely to face.

The case studies describe just a handful of models for building students’ capacity for managing their financial lives. While we hope this might generate discussion and ideas among institutional personnel and potential partners, we also want to emphasize the need for more research to determine additional best practices. This is why the Boston Fed is evaluating a two-year multi-institutional pilot that combines educational matched savings programming, financial coaching and support systems to help students navigate the financial aid process.

We want to know if students who receive services demonstrate stronger educational outcomes, such as higher rates of persistence; and financial outcomes, such as improved decision-making surrounding paying for school and managing their financial lives, versus those who do not receive any services at all. We also want to understand the interplay of these outcomes and the extent to which a model of this kind could be scaled up.

In the meantime, we continue to advocate that community colleges commit to helping their students to manage their financial lives effectively. We have hosted a series of events that brought together expertsin-person and online, and we will be actively engaging community colleges in discussions tailored to their unique institutional contexts and student needs through on-site visits. One of our recent visits to an institution in Massachusetts, for instance, included a broad cross-section of institutional staff, faculty and students, and resulted in a rich discussion of possibilities for applying what we have learned to this institution’s unique context.

Institutions and the students they serve will be better positioned when students are knowledgeable, well-informed stewards of their financial lives and able to navigate financial systems as students, workforce participants, and members of society. The Resource Handbook is intended to make this case, demonstrate actual examples and observed benefits, provide insights into how to achieve effective delivery, and ultimately, to foster a shared belief of how working with students in this way is integral to their educational progress and future financial wellness.

Sarah Savage is community-affairs manager and Erin M. Graves is senior policy analyst in the Financial Capabilities Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. This piece originated on the Web site of the New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe.org).

Tim Faulkner: Big money, confusion confront bottle-bill backers

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff Expanding Massachusetts' existing bottle-redemption law to include bottled water, juices and other noncarbonated drinks seems like a simple proposition. But interviews with voters and business owners reveal that there is considerable confusion about what Question 2 will and won’t do.

The intent of Question 2 is to expand the 5-cent deposit program to include beverages that weren't around when the state's bottle bill began 32 years ago. This includes bottled water, fruit juices, teas and sports drinks. If approved by voters on Nov. 4, an expanded bottle bill would still exempt all milk containers and wine and liquor bottles. Juice boxes, juice pouches and infant formula also would be exempt.

Every five years, the 5-cent deposit would be indexed to inflation so that the financial incentive remains. A greater share of the deposit (3.5 cents) would go to redemption centers. The fee bottlers pay distributors and dealers for empties would increase to 3.5 cents. These fees would also be reviewed every five years to reflect inflation and the cost of doing business.

The expanded bill would restart the state's Clean Environmental Fund, which supports parks, air, water and forest programs.

What it doesn’t do. Question 2 will not change existing municipal recycling programs. If voters reject Question 2, the bottle bill stays the same.

Who supports the question? If there is an environmental group in the state that doesn’t support Question 2, ecoRI News didn't find it. Of the state's 351 municipalities, 209 have endorsed the referendum. Massachusetts Sierra Club is heavily involved, and MassPIRG is canvassing and making phone calls to voters.

The supporters' main argument is that an expanded bottle bill would reduce litter, send less waste to landfills, and generate funding for parks and clean-up projects. They estimate that 1.25 billion more bottles and cans will be recycled each year.

Proponents are framing the debate as a choice between “lies” from big soda companies and the people of Massachusetts who know better. They note that 80 percent of bottles and cans in the current deposit system get recycled, while only 23 percent of containers without a deposit are recycled, according to the Container Recycling Institute. They point to a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) study that says an expanded program would save cities and towns $7 million annually in clean-up costs.

Who is against it? The “No” camp includes industry groups, grocery stores and big beverage corporations, all of which typically oppose new environmental regulations. Opponents include 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, Nestlé Waters, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, the makers of Nantucket Nectars, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, 21 chambers of commerce and 14 craft brewers.

The big money has come from the American Beverage Association, which represents small- and major-brand beverages, as well as bottlers and distributors. The association recently pumped $5 million into TV ads; Stop & Shop donated $300,000 to fight the question.

The opponents' main argument is that costs would go up for the entire beverage industry and the amount of red tape would increase.

Opponents are using antagonistic terms such as "forced deposit” and “forced redemption” to imply that changes would be a financial burden and an inconvenience foisted on them by government. One of the most controversial statements from the No on Question 2 campaign implies that 90 percent of the state already has municipal curbside recycling. Opponents claim an expanded program would be an expensive hassle, requiring new curbside containers at a cost of $60 million to cities and towns.

No on Question 2 didn't respond to repeated inquiries to verify these claims. According to the DEP, 47 percent of cities and towns offer curbside recycling, serving 64 percent of state residents.

Opponents also state that "Question 2 would raise your nickel deposit and additional fees every five years—without your vote." In reality, the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs would review the 5-cent deposit every five years and adjust it to stay current with inflation. Using the current inflation rate, the deposit would reach 10 cents in 2050.

In all, the claims that multinational beverage companies are behind the No on Question 2 initiative appear accurate, as most of the $8 million raised to stop the measure has come from outside the state. Proponents have raised $300,000, most of which came from the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

Mass. bottle use* 3.5 billion beverages are sold annually in Massachusetts.

Of those, 39 percent are non-carbonated and not covered by the bottle bill.

Water bottles account for 72 percent of the noncarbonated bottles.

983 million water bottles are sold in Massachusetts every year.

*Source: Container Recycling Institute.

James P. Freeman: What is a 'living wage'?

Like the mysterious appearance of black swans and blue moons, it was bound to happen sooner or later. The Cape Cod Times recently endorsed a position held by conservative Massachusetts state rep. Randy Hunt, who agreed to an increase in the state minimum wage that became law last month. Supporters of a mandated increase in wages (which will rise to $11 an hour in the commonwealth by 2017) might reconsider their positions given today’s fragile economy and future projections of the deleterious effects of such action locally and nationally.

Hunt (R.-Sandwich) shall be forgiven for choosing, in his words, “the lesser of two evils:” one, a pesky ballot initiative—always a wildcard for passage--in this November’s elections, that called for a swift increase of $10.50 an hour and automatic increases indexed to inflation (think of the recent gasoline tax, pegged similarly in perpetuity); or two, a higher per-hour figure with a definitive cap not tied to a gyrating Consumer Price Index, to be implemented in stages. He chose the latter.

His compromise may make sense given the coercive supreme Democrat majorities in the legislature that would have thwarted more reasonable Republican proposals but it is still bad public policy. It also does little to counter  assertions that Republicans are insensitive about the working poor. More so, it is just as bad as President Obama’s $10.10 federal minimum-wage proposal.

In 1938, at the end of progressivism’s first wave and during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term, Congress enacted a federal minimum wage. Every president since, except Ford, Reagan and Obama, has signed into law increases, the most recent being George W. Bush in 2007; the last increase set in 2009. Last autumn, The Huffington Post reported that “progressive economists” believe that if today’s wage kept with the rate of inflation it would now be above $10 an hour.

Today’s debate centers on what Roosevelt indeed described as a “living wage.” Arguments abound on the role of government creating arbitrary and artificial adjustments. What should or should not be a floor? Given today’s prettifying pulse of progressivism, why not a ceiling? In the interests of fairness and compassion, why let market conditions  dictate such figures?

So public-policy experts now speak of a living wage that  would remove workers from poverty. Therefore, the $10.10 figure supposedly will not only lift the working poor out of poverty, but will presumably allow for continued receipt and reliance on benefits so generously distributed in today’s welfare state.

There is a fundamental flaw in this line of reasoning.

To be elevated to a lower-middle-class income bracket, a $10.10 minimum wage presupposes an hourly worker working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. According to federal statistics, however, full-time hourly laborers work an average of 34.5 hours a week; 70 percent of all minimum-wage employees work fewer than 35 hours a week. Even government statisticians must concede that working every single week is wildly ambitious for purposes of actuarial calculations.

Despite having over $2 trillion in cash reserves, corporate America is unwilling to pay wages for what was once universally defined as a 40-hour week, let alone overtime. Government’s role should be to create conditions—incentives--favorable for increasing salaries. But the government continues to create uncertainty with its tax policy, regulatory overreach and, more recently, disrupting coverage and costs for healthcare (watch Massachusetts mandate paid sick-leave for small and medium-sized businesses).

What’s next, establishing a law forcing businesses to comply with a 40-hour work week?

In 2007, David Neumark and William Wascher cleared the din above the noise with a study published for National Bureau of Economic Research. Their research determined: “A sizable majority of the studies surveyed… give a relatively consistent indication of negative employment effects of minimum wages.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour rate to the president’s preferred wage will remove only 900,000 people (or 2 percent) out of poverty from the 45 million believed in poverty. Middle-income jobs from the last recession were replaced largely with low-wage jobs.

Of greater concern should be this potentially unintended consequence of government meddling: increased income of the poorest of workers will likely make them ineligible for the full amount of benefits, such as food and energy assistance. Not to mention higher payroll taxes. Such a twist may in fact negate extra hourly pay to the point of making the very increase negligibly beneficial, all to the detriment of domestic and state economies.

A new paradox exists today: jobless rates are generally declining -- as have labor- participation rates--while benefits to Americans are increasing. James P.  Freeman, formerly in the financial-services industry, is a Cape Cod-based writer.