May 2015
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Month May 2015

RIP Beau Biden

The Vice President has announced the passing of his son Beau (aka Joseph R. III) due to brain cancer.  The former Delaware AG was planning to run for Governor in 2016.  This is unfortunately not the VP’s first child to predecease him.  He lost his infant daughter along with his first wife in a car crash shortly after his first election to the US Senate in 1972, which also injured Beau and brother Hunter.  Thoughts and prayers with the Biden family.

Risky Business: The Olympics Have a 100% Chance of Going Over Budget

in the Games the budget is more like a fictitious minimum that is consistently overspent. –Flyvbjerg & Stewart There’s one question to ask when it comes to hosting the Olympics in 2024:  are they worth it? To address this question, we need to consider three factors: costs, benefits, and risks. The benefits don’t have to be monetary. There is nothing wrong with saying the Olympics at such-and- such-a-cost are worth it, even if some or all of the benefits are intangible. The costs, however, are almost all related to money. The risks, though necessarily hypothetical, have been what we’ve been talking about in other threads. As an opponent of the hosting the Olympics, I’ll let someone else make an argument for them. Instead, I’ll focus on the costs and risks, and some empirical research that suggests the Olympics are not worth hosting. Bent Flyvbjerg and Allison Stewart of the Saïd Business School at Oxford University published a working paper called Olympic Proportions: Cost and Cost Overrun at the Olympics 1960-2012. Flyvbjerg and Stewart characterize the Olympics fall as a megaproject, a huge, complex, costly project such as the Big Dig. And due to the cost and complexity of the Olympics, it’s often difficult to account for […]

Elizabeth Warren nails it again

The video speaks for itself (there is an embed tag above, but I lack the necessary privileges for the BMG software to include it). From the email many of us got from Senator Warren this afternoon. Note to editors: it would be awesome if one of you used your privileges to allow the iframe embed tag to work. It would also be awesome if the site were somehow adjusted so that, for example, fully-fledged BMG subscribers had privileges needed to embed videos like this.

… and no, TIF bonds are not magical free money

As you no doubt have heard by now, Boston 2024′s proposal to use a financing device known as “tax increment financing” or TIF bonds to help build an Olympic stadium has generated a good deal of controversy.  For the most part, the controversy is because the use of TIF bonds appears to contradict Boston 2024′s oft-repeated pledge that public funds would not be used to build Olympic facilities but only to finance infrastructure like improving the MBTA. Is that true?  A number of BMGers have been arguing about this (mostly in the comments to this post).  TIF bonds are (apparently) issued on the assumption that, following the improvements that the bonds are financing, increased tax revenues from the improved property will suffice to repay the obligations owed to the bondholders.  But, of course, that assumes that tax revenues will indeed increase sufficiently to cover the principal and interest payments.  And if they don’t…? Happily, alert reader paulsimmons points to an explainer in the Boston Business Journal that sheds some much-needed light on the subject. There are several ways to issue a TIF bond in Massachusetts, and Boston 2024 did not specify in the bid document which method would be used. […]

Dear Boston 2024: You don’t have until June 30

The increasingly-beleaguered folks at Boston 2024, unable to comment on today’s Globe story on the latest revelations because, hilariously, they were traveling from Switzerland, have previously explained that, not to worry, they will explain everything – on their own timetable. The bid committee has promised to release a new venue plan by June 30, which the organization has said will include more detail on how the committee intends to deliver the stadium and Olympic village. In case you hadn’t noticed, June 30 is a month and a day from today.  Meanwhile, the state’s top elected officials – Governor Baker, Senator Warren, and Mayor Walsh, among others – are rapidly losing patience with the pattern of being blindsided by revelations in the press that don’t jibe with what Boston 2024 has told them. Does anyone seriously think that repairing the damage can wait until June 30?  I sure don’t.  When the Boston 2024 gang lands at Terminal E, their jet-lagged selves will likely face a barrage of unfriendly reporters demanding answers to the questions raised over the last couple of days – and when they get back to their offices, there will likely be unhappy messages waiting from the aforementioned officials. If […]

‘Real Lives’ contract with private firm raises questions

(Cross-posted from The COFAR Blog) As part of a push toward so-called self-directed services for the developmentally disabled, the state has established a payment system for those services that has exclusively benefited a Boston-based consulting firm. The Department of Developmental Services is paying Public Partnerships LLC (PPL) close to $1 million a year in fees to perform what appear to be primarily check-processing and basic accounting services in connection with three self-directed services programs, according to records obtained from the Department under a Public Records Law request and to online contracting information.  Those programs currently appear to serve less than 1,000 people in the DDS system. In a written response to us, Marianne Meacham, the DDS general counsel, said it would be “inaccurate” to characterize PPL’s services as check processing and basic accounting, and maintained that “the functions performed by (PPL) far exceed” those services. However, with the exception of requirements to elicit feedback from participants in one program and to handle customer service calls in another, the tasks or requirements listed in PPL’s contractual Scopes of Work for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015 all appear to be check processing, accounting, or website management functions.  When we had previously asked DDS for records showing or describing “all services […]

The Biggest Boston 2024 debacle yet: Taxpayers on the hook for 66% of opening day stadium

Click here for a quick WCVB video, or here for all the sordid details at the Boston Business Journal. In case anyone’s bad at math, 66% of an Opening Day stadium would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, London spent nearly $800 million on its opening day stadium. Anyone think Massachusetts has a spare $528 million lying around? Of course, this was all a part of Boston 2024′s winning USOC bid. They just didn’t make any of this public. Instead, they lied straight to our faces, again and again, saying taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for any venue costs. Don’t worry, though — they say they weren’t trying to be dishonest. Boston’s Pantheon of Elites sitting on top Boston 2024′s board didn’t tell us we’d have to pay for 66% of their stadium because it was “proprietary information.” That’s like a thief stealing a credit card and going out on a shopping binge, then saying they didn’t steal — they just didn’t let us know they would be using our credit card because it was “proprietary information.” Let’s also not forget that Beacon Hill just rejected an amendment that would have prevented the Commonwealth from putting […]

Red State Legislature Repeals Death Penalty

Kudos to the Nebraska Republican legislators who overrode their Governor’s own veto and made Nebraska the first conservative state to voluntarily abolish the death penalty via legislative enactment. Though it formally considers itself nonpartisan, the Nebraska Legislature is dominated by Republicans. Republican legislators who have voted in favor of abolition said they believed the death penalty was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values. Other lawmakers cited religious or moral reasons for their support of the death penalty ban. What is notable is that conservative evangelicals and Catholics were the most vocally opposed: Mr. Johnson, who considers himself an evangelical Protestant, said he sees the issue less as a religious belief than a strictly personal one. If you really follow Jesus’s teachings,” he said, “thou shall not kill, you know.” Catholic bishops in Nebraska issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing Mr. Ricketts’s veto. “We remain convinced that the death penalty does not deter crime, nor does it make Nebraska safer or promote the common good in our state,” they said. Perhaps like same sex marriage bans and pot legalization, this may portend a future wave of conservative and swing states overturning a clearly failed policy.

Democrats too far to the left?

A provocative NYT opinion piece today by former George W. Bush speechwriter and Romney staffer Peter Wehner (in other words, a member of one of the least popular presidential administrations in U.S. history, and a losing national campaign, but I digress): One can also plausibly argue that the Republican Party is the governing party in America. After two enormous losses by Democrats in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, Republicans control the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are currently 31 Republican governors compared with 18 for Democrats. Republicans control 68 of 98 state legislative chambers and the most state legislative seats since the 1920s. Nearly half of Americans now live in states under total Republican control. The Obama years have been politically good for Mr. Obama; they have been disastrous for his party. That is a problematic legacy for a man who envisioned himself as a Franklin Delano Roosevelt-like transformational political figure. Those who insist that the Democratic Party’s march to the left carries no political risks might consider the fate of the British Labour Party earlier this month. Ed Miliband, its leader, ran hard to the left. The result? The Conservative Party under David Cameron won its […]

Comment of the day: A history lesson on AIM and energy

Maybe our captains of industry don’t have all the answers when it comes to our energy future. From trickle-up: Oh the irony This is just a historical footnote, but back in the 80s the business lobbies and AIM in particular were all gung-ho for Pilgrim II, Seabrook I and II, and probably even earlier for the nukes proposed in Montague, Charlestown, and Wiscasset. Yup we needed all that generating capacity for growth. Come the 90s and the bill for all of these dead dinosaurs was due, billions of dollars which was a lot back then. AIM took the lead in a campaign that those costs should be loaded onto residential ratepayers only. If not, the businesses would all move to someplace that was not saddled with all that bad imprudent nuclear debt. That was the original impetus behind the restructuring of the electric-utility industry in New England, under which the utilities divested themselves of their power plants. These folks have a long history of being stupid about energy and their solution to the problems they help to cause is to shrug and shift blame and cost elsewhere. In fact, the fossil-fuel industry is predicated on shifting cost and blame elsewhere. […]