Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

James P. Freeman: Charlie Baker restores good government to Mass.

      

“The Baker-Polito Administration Year in Review – 2016,” released nearly a year after Massachusetts Gov. Charles (but almost always called Charlie) Baker assumed the corner office is, in many respects, a blistering indictment of Deval Patrick’s eight years as governor.

It begins a section entitled “Fixes and Reforms,” which lists as goals and objectives: “fixing a broken transportation system,” “reforming a broken Department of Children and Families,” “fixing the RMV,” “fixing a broken Health Connector,” and “fixing a broken Medical Marijuana dispensary system.” In short, the document lays out the charges of years of progressive malfeasance in Massachusetts.

In a wide ranging telephone interview, Baker sounded calm and confident about the noble work his team is diligently implementing to restore and repair a dysfunctional state government.

Asked if he would characterize one of the themes of his administration as “restoration,” Baker pondered for a moment, and responded, simply: “That is a perfectly fine word” to describe it.

Baker said the biggest disappointment of his first year was not addressing the problems at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority “earlier.” The contrasts between Patrick and Baker, in style and substance, are evident. Patrick embodied the incurable progressive urge: if you can’t fix it, expand it. Instead of simply fixing the “T” he sought its expansion, with a billion-dollar transportation “network.” Patrick was a dreamer. Baker is a reformer.

Baker’s approach is not sleight of hand or sledgehammer, rather, it is realistic assessment. When asked the biggest hurdle the Commonwealth faces, his answer is surprising: “energy.”

Despite the comfort of low natural-gas prices and the false sense of security it brings, the Commonwealth is due to lose 10,000 megawatts of power off the grid in the next four to five years. Residents already pay the second highest energy rates in the country. Unless it is addressed soon, Baker fears brownouts and blackouts are possible. He believes Canadian hydropower is the best alternative and “I hope there is a big debate in 2016” with the legislature about obtaining the approvals to move forward. Securing energy, like good government, is overly complicated today.

With regard to building a better economy, Baker eschews the grandiosity of the previous administration’s billion-dollar grab bags (see Life Sciences Initiative). His programs resemble economic, in which smaller, more manageable initiatives come into sharper focus from a distance, where a comprehensive image emerges. He seeks to “simplify” and “modernize” local and state government and reduce its complexity. He is also intent on seeing that western Massachusetts take part in Boston’s booming economy by developing what he calls “skill building.”

A few weeks ago, the governor held a private screening of the shattering HBO documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, USA. It is an antiseptic look at a group of young people who have succumb to the grip of opiate addiction and shreds the idyllic image of Patti Page’s “Old Cape Cod.” He told invited guests that while the film takes place in Massachusetts it “could be anyplace in America.” Every day four people die in the Commonwealth of opioid overdose. It would not be surprising if he looks to reforming how prescriptions for opioid pain medications are written, with such medications being drivers of unintended addictions.

Baker may in fact be the rightful heir to another quiet, serene and unassuming leader of the Commonwealth from nearly a century ago, Gov. Calvin Coolidge. They share the same sentiments and sensibilities about what government does and how it should do it, its vices and virtues.

Coolidge wrote long ago, but with particular relevance today, “There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no one independence quite so important, as living in your means.”

Given the level of massive liabilities — unfunded pensions, perennial out-of-balance budgets, public debt obligations – that approach $130 billion (or $19,493 per capita), Massachusetts has been living beyond its means for decades. These matters will surely need attention too.

The process of restoration is untidy and, in many respects, the major political battles have yet begun but are looming. One wonders if Baker will proactively flush out unpopular and even painful measures early in a first term or slowly unravel the carnival of carnage as it continues coming his way. Either way is fraught with political risks for a man enjoying 70 percent approval ratings today.

After a long lineage of progressive posturing and grisly governance, however, an exhausted and bloodied Commonwealth should continue to enthusiastically accept Baker’s brand of competence, caution and sensible government.

James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and a former Cape Cod Times columnist. This piece originated at The New Boston Post.

 

Robert Whitcomb: Private-sector passenger rail?

Since the disappearance of private-sector passenger rail  service decades ago, intrepid entrepreneurs have tried to bring it back. None have succeeded.

However, in some densely populated places, passenger rail has even thrived in the public sector, at least as measured by passenger volume. This mostly means Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor and several major cities’ long-established commuter-rail networks. But  new  commuter rail is  also catching on in some unlikely places, including such Sunbelt cities as Dallas and Phoenix, which now have popular light-rail systems.

Now, with an aging population, the proliferation of digital devices that many people would prefer to stare at rather than at the road and the increasing unpleasantness of traveling on America’s decaying highway infrastructure amidst texting and angry drivers, private passenger rail looks more capitalistically attractive.

Consider All Aboard Florida, a company that plans to offer extensive rail service starting in 2017. It will connect Miami and Orlando in just under three hours, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Its advertising copy eloquently describes commuter rail’s allure in populous areas: “{Y}ou can turn your stressful daily {car} commute into a productive or peaceful time by choosing to take the train instead of driving your car. By becoming a train commuter, you’ll also help the economy and environment while you’re at it.’’

Southern New England, like much of Florida, is densely populated, with some unused or underused rail rights of way. So our entrepreneurs occasionally propose private passenger rail for routes not served by Amtrak or such regional mass-transit organizations as Metro North and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Consider the Worcester-Providence route, on which a new company called the Boston Surface Railroad Co. wants to start operating commuter rail service in 2017 on the (now freight-only) Providence and Worcester Railroad’s tracks. Most of the commuters going to work would be traveling from the Worcester area, via Woonsocket, where there would be a stop, to Greater Providence. While Providence itself has fewer people  -- about 178,000 -- than Worcester (about 183,000), the two-state Providence metro area -- about 1.6 million -- is much bigger than the latter’s metro  area’s about 813,000.

The density is there for rail service. That the region has an older population than the national average and frequent bad winter weather also give the idea a lift.

But the old rail line needs to be upgraded if the trips are to be made fast enough to lure many travelers. The company hopes to offer a one-way time of about 70 minutes on a route that you can drive in about 45 minutes in moderate traffic and clement weather.  That could be a killer.

What this project and similar ones need is new welded track, rebuilt rail beds (with help of public money?) and some entirely new routes to make service competitive with car-driving times. We need more passenger and duel-purpose passenger-freight rail lines, not more highways. But getting them will be tough in a country that so blithely tolerates crumbling transportation infrastructure and has a deeply  entrenched libertarian commuting  habit of a single person driving long distances to work. Unless gasoline tops $5 a gallon and stays there for at least a year, it’s hard to see millions of Americans deciding that they’ll quit their cars to take the train.

Still, I applaud the project’s CEO, Vincent Bono, and hope that thousands of commuters will give his railroad a try. While the trip  would be long, think of how much uninterrupted Web surfing (free Wi-Fi!), reading and snoozing you could get on these trains, with their reclining seats.

 xxx

An Aug. 10 USA Today story was headlined “Smaller cities emerge among top picks for biz meetings.’’  Depressingly, Providence was not on the list of the top 50 places for “meetings and events’’ in 2015, say evaluations by Cvent.  But many far less interesting and attractive places were.

The reasons probably include Rhode Island’s under-funded and balkanized self-promotion and the long delay (now  finally being addressed) in building a longer runway at T.F.  Green Airport.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com),  a Providence-based editor,  writer and consultant,  oversees newenglanddiary.com and is a partner in Cambridge Management Group, (cmg625.com), a healthcare consultancy, and a fellow at the Pell Center. He used to be the editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal and the finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, among other jobs.

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.

Charles Chieppo: Weather puts focus on need to fix MBTA

BOSTON

Sometimes events conspire to shine a spotlight on the effects of decades of bad policy decisions. Such was the case earlier this week when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority — and with it the Greater Boston economy — all but ground to a halt under the weight of record snowfall and cold.

Fixing the T will require reform, restraint, and money, and it will be far more difficult than it would have been had state leaders acted when the agency’s problems became apparent more than a decade ago.

Today the MBTA owes nearly $9 billion in debt and interest, and faces a $3 billion maintenance backlog. With the T paying nearly as much in debt service as it collects in fares, the commonwealth, despite its own fiscal problems, will likely have to take over some of that debt. Otherwise, the transit agency will be like one of the many cars we’ve seen in the last week, spinning its wheels faster only to get mired ever-deeper in snow.

But the state can’t solve all the MBTA’s problems. The T should develop clear, customer-focused metrics, as promised in Massachusetts’s 2009 transportation reform law, publish them on its website, and regularly update its performance against the metrics.

Performance goals in such areas as on-time performance, percentage of operating costs covered by fare revenue, and a passenger-comfort index based on such variables as working heat and air conditioning and wi-fi availability, should be ambitious yet plausible given the condition of MBTA assets. Annual funding increases should be tied to achieving the goals, which should become more aggressive as the system gradually modernizes.

At first, additional funding should come from raising the state gasoline tax. But with the rise of high-mileage and alternative-fuel vehicles, the gas tax is at best a temporary fix. The longer-term solution lies in electronic tolling of limited-access highways in the state's metropolitan areas, similar to what the Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission recommended in 2007.

Until now, residents outside Greater Boston and those who don’t use the MBTA have resisted any role in solving the T’s problems. But drivers benefit from a transit system that takes cars off the road. And a functioning transit system is critical to a metropolitan area that drives regional economic growth well beyond Interstate 495 or even the borders of Massachusetts.

The story of the MBTA’s downfall is one of underinvestment exacerbated by irresponsible expansion. For more than two decades, the T expanded faster than any other major American transit agency, yet no funding mechanism was established to pay for any of it.

Maintenance was the loser in this game of musical chairs. By fiscal 2010, things got to the point where just six of the T’s 57 most critical safety projects could be funded. As former John Hancock President and CEO David D’Alessandro wrote in his 2009 MBTA review, “It makes little sense to continue expanding the system when the MBTA cannot maintain the existing one.”

And it’s both unfair and unrealistic to think that tax- and toll-payers who just rejected indexing the state gas tax to inflation should kick in the astronomical sums it would take to simultaneously shore up MBTA finances and pay to build, operate, and maintain new lines.

While underinvestment and expansion are at the heart of the MBTA’s problems, other issues require attention. According to a 2013 study by former state Inspector Gen. Greg Sullivan, the T pays far more than it should to maintain its buses. Even though the agency’s chief procurement officer said that performing major bus overhauls in-house cost 50 percent more, the commonwealth’s anti-privatization law prevented the work from being outsourced. That level of inefficiency  should no longer be tolerated.

Nor  should the MBTA’s expensive and dangerously underfunded pension system. Unlike state employees, T workers’ pension contributions are subject to collective bargaining. The result is that they kick in about half as much as their state counterparts, leaving the beleaguered agency to pick up the slack.

Governor Baker is proposing $14 million in T cuts, although more than $8 million will come from a hiring freeze and administrative cuts, which are unlikely to have much impact over the remaining five months of the current fiscal year.

Our region needs a 21st-Century MBTA that facilitates economic growth instead of hindering it. In addition to money, achieving that goal will require determination to learn from past mistakes and the urgency to prevent the problem from spinning even further out of control.

Charles Chieppo is the principal of Chieppo Strategies LLC, a public-policy  communications firm. This piece first ran in The Boston Globe.

James P. Freeman: Patrick's contradictory progressivism

  “The man who is swimming

against the stream knows the strength of it”

                        --from “The New Freedom,” Woodrow Wilson, 1913

 

“…if I walked on water,

the headline splash would be: ‘Patrick Can’t Swim’”

--from an address at  Harvard's Kennedy School, Deval Patrick, 2009

 

To a degree, every election is a referendum on activity since the preceding election. It is astonishing, therefore, given two terms, how little  Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s record--and the diminished potency of progressivism--played in the gubernatorial race.

 

No sober Democrat candidate channeled his style, but instead checkmated his substance (note the absence too of President Obama—Patrick’s political kindred spirit—on the national stage this past election). Association with Patrick was problematic; he is no longer a sensible reference point.

 

Thoughtful progressives must now consider Patrick a promiscuous progressive, a kind of flirtatious political poseur. Eight years of folly augur a sour legacy. And this may portend that faux popularity coupled with meager achievement will not translate into electoral victory for any future office.

 

The carnival of carnage under his administration would have dismantled the career of any other public servant in a state not controlled by a single party; in Massachusetts it’s a prerequisite for reelection, not recall.

 

Patrick acted with contempt for managing the more mundane, if not untidy, aspects of governance. He was a disengaged observer--not leader or manager--of a large, blameless bureaucracy and a corrupt system of institutional patronage.

 

He was all too willing, in the presence of this monolithic government, to act as its emotional proxy, not trailblazing reformer. He therefore substituted feeling for function. A favorite phrase, honed for maximum impact but of no consequential effect: “We must turn to one another not on one another.”

 

Justina Pelletier’s family turned to the courts after a lengthy battle with  the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), an agency of such severe managerial incompetence it should be shuttered. The Boston Globe reported last Feb. 2 that the death rate among children under DCF supervision averages 9-10 per year. Just two weeks later the governor praised the then-commissioner, as having “done a terrific job.” Since 2007, funding has been cut to DCF by over $100 million. Dysfunctional and overwhelmed, DCF would have been tasked to assist 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children under his plan this past summer.

 

The New England Compounding Center, the state-regulated specialty pharmacy, was responsible for 64 deaths and 750 infections nationwide. The Hinton State Laboratory Institute malfeasance may have tainted tens of thousands of criminal convictions. The non-functioning health Connector Web site affected hundreds of thousands of residents and untold cost in dollars and anxiety.

 

His eloquent, elegant speech, affirming soaring ideals, was a form of distraction from poor executive oversight. Much of it was mixed with rhetorical nonsense. A recent trip to Israel was an “innovation mission.” His attendance at the swearing in of Panama’s president last June was “a great honor for the commonwealth.” And “if we get clean energy right, the whole world will be our customer.”

 

A self-described “pro-growth progressive,” Patrick embodied the new incurable progressive urge: if you can’t fix it, expand it. Instead of simply addressing chronic structural and financial problems at the  Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority he sought extension of regional transportation networks.

 

Evidence of pro-growth progressivism: One in seven residents receives assistance from Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA); the number of households receiving Food Stamps increased 57 percent from 2009-2012. State expenditures have increased by 24 percent (over $1 billion a year) during the same period, far outpacing the rate of inflation. Unfunded pension liabilities increased from $11.7 billion in fiscal 2007 to over $21 billion in fiscal 2012. Since 2009 property taxes have increased by 25 percent. From 2009 to 2013 child poverty rates rose. (Rates are dropping nationally). The state unemployment rate, now 6percent, is still higher today than in January 2007, his first inaugural, when it was 4.6 percent.

 

If his form of progressivism is confusing it is also contradictory. Patrick called for a “progressive income tax” in 2010, supported a reduction in sales tax (the tax deemed too “regressive”) but signed into law a gasoline tax in 2013, which actually is regressive.

 

With spectacularly scant mention--by a largely fawning  media--during 2012’s senatorial and presidential elections, Patrick swiftly settled a lawsuit (brought by an advocacy group led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s daughter, represented by the law firm where Patrick's wife is a senior partner) against DTA, which claimed federal voter-registration violations. Nothing, suggests, however, he settled the massive waste, fraud and abuse that besieged the DTA (1,160 dead recipients of aid; 30,000 missing EBT cards).

 

President Wilson would now sue for trademark infringement on a brand he helped create over a century ago as progressivism’s godfather. He was a serious student of the philosophy, wrote extensively about it and embraced its tenants. Another forefather, former Gov. Michael Dukakis, at least talked about competence.

 

Patrick was never consubstantial with the commonwealth or the creed.

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.