• Capital Idea

    It seems no one is sure who first uttered the old wisecrack “Light dawns on Marblehead,” but it seems that light has finally begun to dawn on Beacon Hill, as well, with talk that the state should devise a mechanism to divert more of its capital gains tax revenue into reserve accounts as a way of tamping down the volatility that comes with economic booms and busts.

    A recent report by MassINC found that Massachusetts is the third most dependent state in the nation on capital gains revenues.  Such monies are really a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, Massachusetts is fortunate to have a concentration of educational, scientific, medical, financial services and high-technology businesses and institutions, whose prosperity during good times fills the state’s coffers to over-flowing. 

  • Lawmakers look to capital gains tax to bolster savings

    Lawmakers look to capital gains tax to bolster savings

    The economic downturn has produced a record decline in the taxes Massachusetts collects from taxpayers on their investment profits, a $1.6 billion drop-off that is largely responsible for the worst fiscal crisis to hit state government in decades.

    The 75 percent decline in capital gains tax payments for the fiscal year that ends June 30 is also producing an unusual consensus on Beacon Hill, where Governor Deval Patrick’s administration and lawmakers are moving to protect the state against wild swings in income by diverting more of the tax proceeds into savings.

  • A Report Card for Ed Reform

    This week, The Globe editorial page reflected on 15 years of education reform, which has cost billions while disparities persist. We said a study by the think tank MassINC painted a “sobering” picture,, and we added our own recommendations: that legislators continue to fund public education and that teachers unions revisit their “outmoded” opposition to merit pay.

    The editorial set off a spirited debate. djmojo wrote: “What is outmoded is the Globe’s continued insistence for merit pay in education. Educators work through collaboration on competition… Save the anti-union rhetoric and address the important issues, such as the amount of teachers being laid off across this Commonwealth. We are in danger of losing all the gains we have made since Ed reform.”

  • The Schools 15 Years Later

    A new study marking 15 years of education reform points to tough challenges in cities and towns with burgeoning enrollments of low-income students and those lacking English skills. It’s a sobering report. But it’s not intimidating. Education reform in Massachusetts has always been focused on elevating students in hardscrabble communities.

    Lawmakers understood in 1993 that students in Chelsea, Lawrence, Holyoke, and other poor cities couldn’t compete for academic honors with their suburban counterparts. But the Legislature could equalize average spending per student and ensure that every school district had sufficient resources to implement the state’s new academic standards.

  • A brave call for raising the charter cap

    A brave call for raising the charter cap

    When MassINC speaks, it’s well worth listening.  After all, the nonpartisan think tank has established itself as a thoughtful, careful, credible voice on public policy in Massachusetts.

    Yesterday, it called for raising the cap on charter schools.

    That recommendation comes as part of a detailed analysis of the state’s long education reform effort.  The study, “Incomplete Grade: Massachusetts Education Reform at 15,” is a good news/bad news evaluation.

  • Education overhaul facing big hurdles

    The changing demographics call into question the likelihood of the state meeting the bold vision of its overhaul effort: that all students, regardless of their zip code, can achieve at their highest levels, according to the report, “Incomplete Grade: Massachusetts Education Reform at 15” by MassINC, a nonpartisan public policy research and educational institute.

    This cautionary note looms large over the otherwise significant gains achieved over the past 15 years, including steady improvement on state and national standardized tests and increased equity among school districts on per-pupil spending.

  • Ed Reforms Next Steps

    It has been 15 years – and billions of dollars – since Massachusetts embarked on the reform of public education. And the results of a newly released study document one of those glass half-full, half-empty conclusions.

    The title of the MassINC report, “Incomplete Grade” pretty much says it all.

  • Scrutiny for Special Ed

    More than one in six Massachusetts students are in special education, one of the highest percentages in the country and a level on par with the numbers the state had at its peak before reforms were put in place in 2000.

    But while there was a pitched battle about a decade ago when lawmakers moved to rein in costs and enact standards on special education that are more in line with those of the rest of the country, nary a word is heard these days about examining the $2 billion special education price.

  • Avoid the boom and bust

    And speaking of rolling the dice, Bay State budget-writers have been all too happy in recent years to balance the state budget on revenue from the highly volatile capital gains tax.  But it’s a gamble that is not paying off for taxpayers. 

    As the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) reported in a study a few months back, Massachusetts is more dependent on revenue from capital gains than every other state but Oregon and Connecticut.  Such an over-reliance has led to unnecessary budget deficits when the real estate and stock markets sour, and the constant race to plug the holes with new revenue.  


  • The shape of watts to come – CommonWealth Magazine

    CommonWealth magazine

    Leonard Bicknell confesses that he’s a nut about consuming less energy, even if it costs him more to do so. Over the years, the South Shore heating oil dealer has super-insulated his house, installed magnetic interior storm windows, and switched over to a solar water heater.

  • Strings attached

    CommonWealth magazine

    It had been a rough year for Speaker Sal DiMasi, but you never would have known it when members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives gathered on the first Wednesday in January to elect a leader for the new two-year legislative session.

  • Spending Spiral

    CommonWealth magazine

    nearly a decade ago, state lawmakers tried to put the brakes on special education spending. They tightened the rules that determine which students qualify for special education and narrowed the standard for services that must be provided. Their goal was not only to save money but also to prevent the spiraling cost of special education entitlements from derailing the state’s education reform effort.

    But no one ever checked to see if the brakes actually worked. Indeed, special education — the issue that galvanized debate on Beacon Hill in 2000 — is now largely forgotten. Government watchdogs pay little attention to it, and Gov. Deval Patrick’s Readiness Project, after 18 months of work, barely took notice of it.

  • High-tech breakdown

    CommonWealth magazine
    the websites of federal, state, and municipal agencies and officials can serve as pipelines to the public, allowing citizens and government officials to interact in a convenient, cost-effective manner. But here in Massachusetts, these pipelines often flow in one direction, with citizen email inquiries either ignored or answered in haphazard fashion by government officials.

  • Walsh Fiasco Shows Value of Public Records Law Metro West Daily News

    The emails that derailed the state Sen. Marian Walsh’s bid for a high-paying state authority job saw the light of day only because of the Massachusetts Public Records Law. It was one of those rare instances where transparency trumped politics as usual, where a law designed to reveal the inner working s of government actually worked.

    The state’s Public Records Law is generally weak and ineffective. Vast swaths of state government are exempt from the law and many documents are shielded from its reach by a growing list of legislatively approved exceptions. Many government officials ignore the law and other subvert it by improperly withholding documents or charging excessive fees to produce information. Which is why the Walsh case is so refreshing.

  • Incumbents’ Paradise

    Winning public office for the first time may be a slog in Massachusetts, but once elected, most officials who don’t break the law can stay as long as they like. Thomas Menino hasn’t announced for a fifth term as Boston’s mayor but is the favorite anyway. As for the Legislature, CommonWealth magazine recently found that Massachusetts had the lowest proportion of contested races of any state – just 17 percent.

    The lack of competition is unhealthy, especially in comparison with Minnesota. In that chilly, deep-blue state, the magazine noted, all legislative races are contested. That’s every one. There are important cultural differences: “Minnesota nice” – the states’s storied combination of optimism, politeness, and reluctance to give offense – has no clear analog in local politics here.

  • Would-be Governors No Reason to Wobble

    Go for it, Gov. Give it a try, Tim. C’mon Charlie, the Grand Old Party needs you. Come back, Christy and inject some fun into the race.

    That’s the four-way fight for governor I dream about for 2010: Deval Patrick the incumbent; Charlie Baker, the Republicans’ best hope – plus restless Treasurer Tim Cahill and convenience store magnate Christy Mihos running as independents.

  • Life on the brink

    Life on the brink

    Tough times, locals will tell you, are always tougher here. 

    Since the beginning of the year, more than 13,000 people have walked through the doors of the state’s career center in Fall River, a 42 percent increase from this time in 2008.  It’s one of the busiest places in town.  Phones ring constantly, case workers hustle between cubicles, and job seekers tap at keyboards, sending out resumes and beefing up their skills.  The center’s staff of 22 has been expanded by three to handle the crush of requests for help, but it’s hard to keep up with the waves of layoffs and closings. 

  • Older cities require both credit, respect

    Older cities require both credit, respect

    Once-vibrant industrial cities like Springfield, Holyoke and Chelsea haven’t aged gracefully, but economic development experts argue it’s too soon to write their obituaries.  Planner say it’s possible – indeed, it’s imperative – to help these older urban centers develop a new lease on life as economic engines for the commonwealth.

    We agree.  The state’s economy can’t be concentrated in Greater Boston.  There’s plenty of room to grow beyond Interstate 495.  But, to make older cities industrious and desirable places to live once again, it will take a public-private partnership that recognizes the role these outlying cities play in the economic development of the state as a whole. 

  • Region Would Gain From GOP Revival

    Charlie Baker of Swampscott is considered by many the most qualified candidate in either party for governor. He served in the 1990s as secretary of Administration and Finance in the Weld administration and secretary of Health and Human Services in the Cellucci administration. Since then he’s played a leading role in bringing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care back from the brink of financial collapse.

  • Future Charted for Springfield

    SPRINGFIELD- Will there ever be another Springfield Armory?

    A research team commissioned by the city is asking that question and collecting date that could lead to an answer.

    The city has maintained its presence as both a population center and regional economic hub in recent decades, but it struggles with challenges facing many mid-size cities, according the the research team.

  • Bay State Needs a Viable GOP

    The debate currently taking place throughout the state over the merits of an increase in the gasoline tax, is further evidence of why Massachusetts needs a viable Republican party.

    The Bay State very much needs a vital opposition party, yet Republican fortunes have been going steadily downhill. Last November, their minuscule numbers in the House of Representatives were reduced by three.

  • Less Than Public Records

    The Massachusetts Public Records Law gives government officials too many ways to withhold information. When a citizen requests an official record, the agency in question is required to answer the request within 10 days. But agencies sometimes respond slowly, demand exorbitant fees, improperly claim one of the numerous exemptions in the law, or just blow off the request.

    Recently at a State House forum hosted by CommonWealth magazine, Representative Antonio Cabral of New Bedford recalled asking a district attorney for figures on money raised from drug forfeitures. The request was turned down, he said, on grounds that the Public Records Law exempts information related to criminal investigations. The argument was bogus; releasing general budget information doesn’t compromise any investigation.

  • Reawakening the two party system

    Reawakening the two-party system in Mass.

    After Massachusetts waved goodbye to its third consecutively ethically challenged speaker of the House last week, the spotlight is now on his successor.  Will Robert DeLeo be next in line?  Is there something in the water at the State House – say, a parasite that infects speakers with a bad mix of myopia and arrogance?

    But even as we shake our heads at the repetitive nature of political scandals, we tend to see the Legislature the way we see the winter weather:  It’s awful, isn’t it, but what can you do?

    A look beyond our own borders suggests there’s a great deal we could do differently.

  • Reawakening the Two-Party System in Mass

    After Massachusetts waved goodbye to its third consecutive ethically challenged speaker of the House last week, the spotlight is now on his successor. Will Robert DeLeo be next in line? Is there something in the water at the State House- say, a parasite that infects speakers with a bad mix of myopia and arrogance?

    But even as we shake our heads at the repetitive nature of political scandals, we tend to see the Legislature the way we see winter weather: It’s awful, isn’t it, but what can you do?

  • The Maverick

    CommonWealth magazine

    Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is headed for a high-noon showdown with Gov. Deval Patrick. The Patrick administration is trying to rein in Hodgson and the state’s other elected sheriffs in an effort to consolidate control over an overcrowded state and county corrections system that oversees more than 25,000 inmates and has a combined budget of $1 billion. Patrick wants more coordination between the officials who run state prisons and the sheriffs, who run county jails and houses of correction. And his aides want the sheriffs to stop dabbling in law enforcement and start taking a more prominent role in preparing inmates for life outside prison.

    Hodgson, a tough-talking Republican with an entrepreneurial flair, wants no part of Patrick’s consolidation effort. He says it makes no sense to turn sheriffs into an appendage of the stifling state bureaucracy.

  • Ending the one-party state – CommonWealth Magazine

    CommonWealth magazine

    As a pistol-packing, SUV-driving conservative in liberal St. Paul, Minnesota, David Carlson knew he was fighting an uphill battle. Still, on the day before the 2008 election, the 27-year-old candidate for the state House of Representatives drove through his district of tidy, split-level homes for a final campaign push. He checked the placement of his star-spangled yard signs. He studied voter lists one last time. Cruising through leaf-strewn streets on an unseasonably warm Monday afternoon, he described the residents of each house and predicted his chances: “They’re union; forget it. She’s a single mom with three kids; she might go for my message on public safety.” Carlson, in other words, did all the usual stuff of a local campaign — usual, that is, in places other than Massachusetts.

  • The Old College Try

    At the Gateway Cities Project’s first community-information session in Springfield last October, UMass Dartmouth and MassINC unveiled the initial stages of their plan.  Called simply the “Economic Growth Initiative,” the endeavor has a number of stated goals, which were outlined for those in attendance. 

    That night, Ed Lambert, director of the Urban Initiative, and John Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, painted with broad brushstrokes the forthcoming strategy – the kind of generalized information to be expected from the first stages of a program with an expansive scope.

  • Utah’s Financial Literacy Requirement – CommonWealth Magazine

    States want to be trendsetters, but not all trends are worth bragging about. That was Utah’s predicament from 2002 through 2004, when the Beehive State ranked No. 1 in the country in personal bankruptcy filings (adjusted for population). However, the story behind the numbers was even more disturbing.

  • Broken Homes – CommonWealth Magazine

    Helen Williams certainly doesn’t know anything about credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, or mortgage-backed securities. It turns out there is a lot she didn’t even understand about the $395,000 mortgage she got to refinance the three-family house she owns and lives in on Corona Street in Dorchester.

  • The state’s binge-purge diet

    The state’s binge-purge diet

    The downward spiral in the economy has aggravated the state’s revenue shortfall precisely when the services the state renders – from public safety to heating and rental assistance – are most needed by the public.  Making this vicious cycle even worse is the extent to which Massachusetts relies on income taxes, and especially the capital-gains tax, the most volatile and market-sensitive revenue source.  The non-partisan think tank MassINC has proposed sensible solutions to even out the jagged revenue from this source.  But some fixes are more practical than others.

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