T report author takes DeLeo to the woodshed.

If you haven’t read this outstanding op-ed by David D’Alessandro, go get yourself some of this. D’Alessandro was the author of the blistering 2009 report that put the onus squarely on legislators to act on MBTA financing. And he’s not holding back now. There are so many good bits it’s impossible to excerpt, but here you go:

DeLeo recently said we have to “take a look top to bottom at the MBTA.’’ Yet just since he has been speaker, there have been two major “reforms,” and the result is that the MBTA maintenance and repair needs are 100 percent higher — and climbing. DeLeo spent years and untold political capital on trying to save a few hundred jobs at Suffolk Downs by promoting a casino in East Boston while the MBTA continued to crumble. Perhaps a little more time and energy worrying about how hundreds of thousands of citizens get to work and school everyday was in order.

…The legislative leadership needs to stop its excuses, stop bloviating, stop shifting blame, and accept responsibility for its decades of failures. They need to give the governor whatever he needs and adopt a new mantra: “We will fix it or you should throw us out.”

I mean, That’s. What. I’m. Saying.

Two points:

#1: I actually disagree with D’Alessandro on T expansion: I don’t think the politics works unless you include new geographical areas that have something to gain from the T. And T expansion helps the low-carbon economy. You just have to pay for it.

#2. How much leverage does anyone have over DeLeo and Mariano? Short of a credible primary threat to either or them, I’m not seeing it. Even many of our “progressive” legislators are touting their new committee assignments, which of course they received in exchange for fealty to DeLeo — the one guy that makes funding the T impossible. It’s all fine and well to get a handful of nifty things for your constituents, but no senior center or health clinic or town square gazebo compares with people getting to work on time.

In any event, one gets the strong impressiion that DeLeo and Mariano are feeling very little pressure whatsoever from the back-benchers to fund the T. I’d love to be proven wrong on this.

Reinventing government's role in commuter rail

Automobiles are probably the most heavily government subsidized transportation in the history of mankind, and automobile companies arguably the greatest moochers (or "takers," choose your buzzword), in history because the state pays for their largest operating cost: the roads. - promoted by Bob_Neer

What if the government’s role in commuter rail was analogous to its role in highways?

Today, highways and roads are the property of the government. The government is responsible for maintaining them. The private sector then pays license fees and such for the right to use them for privately-owned vehicles.

What if commuter rail were done the same way? What if the state acquired and owned the right-of-way, and private individuals and companies then paid license fees and such for the right to use them? In this model, market mechanisms would govern passenger fares much as they do bus fares today.

It seems to me that this allows a more organic and evolutionary bottom-up approach to addressing the interurban needs that Christopher has raised. The government could build out the right-of-way, and private companies could then use that right-of-way (very much like taxis, as stomv observed) to carry passengers based on demand.

Routes that became popular could be built out to expand capacity. Routes that languished could be, after some reasonable trial period, reverted to (temporary) use as linear parks/trails.

This 2011 report describes more specifically the constraints that govern the MBTA ownership of the right of way between Worcester and Boston (emphasis mine):

Starting in earnest in 2006, the MBTA began to negotiate with CSX to acquire the Framingham to Worcester right of way, the South Coast Lines, the BTRT and Grand Junction. Rather than beginning the negotiations with the thorny issues stemming from future sharing of the right of way, the parties sought to identify their fundamental priorities. For both parties, arriving at the right purchase price was important, but a central aspect of the business deal became a joint reconstruction project for state-owned bridges that would allow double-stacked freight cars. In the final deal, MassDOT agreed to raise or otherwise reconstruct approximately 17 state-owned bridges, while CSX agreed to lower the track in 14 locations to allow double-stacking.

I think the analogy here is to states licensing private trucking companies to operate on state highways.

Hey Elizabeth Vizza and the Other Elistist Snobs Running the Boston Common, Shut-Up You!

Liz Vizza is the Executive Director of Friends of the Public Garden. According to The Globe, "Vizza said the Friends of the Public Garden aren’t against bringing the Olympics to town, and they welcome an open dialogue about alternative ways to use the parks if the city is picked to host the games." - promoted by Bob_Neer

So the puss face old farts running the Boston Common say that’s no place for an Olympic event and they aren’t having it. They say it’s a place where no one should pay for anything. Or something like that.

Excuse me? Ahhh, I remember paying good money to see concerts on the Common. In fact they called them “Concerts on the Common”. They didn’t call them “Free Concerts on the Common”. That’s because they weren’t. Some concert promoter paid the city money. They fenced up an area, built a stage and sold tickets. Just like the Olympics are asking to do.

So don’t get all uppity on me about the Common being some sacred ground. Bring back the days of the three card monte  games, Hari Krishnas, and mentally ill old ladies feeding the pigeons while loudly wishing cancer upon anyone who shood them away.

On and you know what Lizzi baby? As far as the Common goes you will do what you are told. You understand that, right? The Olympics will pay you rent, construct the venue, run the event, tear the venue down, and return the piece of shit land in the awsome location to the unlandscaped-semi-grassed-user-friendly-piece of turf it is.

The “Common”. Get it Elizabeth? Really girl come back to earth.

Actually you don’t have to because I am sure Mayor Walsh has already started rolling the wheels to get you the F out of here. You needlessly stuck your head out of a rabbit hole.


Massachusetts Needs Sunshine—And Not Just Outside

Apparently, Bill Galvin of all people is considering putting a question on the ballot that would modernize the public records law in some respects. Great idea. Hopefully, the proposal will end the ridiculous exclusion of the legislature from the law's purview. - promoted by david

You might think a state like Massachusetts could take a victory lap during Sunshine Week—an annual, national celebration of open government and public access to information, which this year runs March 15–21. After all, the Bay State helped invent the very idea of open government. Feisty Massachusetts colonists and their broadsheets about tyrannical acts of the British Crown helped spark the American independence movement and forged the early notion that an informed citizenry would form an essential element of the new democracy.

But somehow over the last 250 years or so, Massachusetts lost its way. Today, Sunshine Week shines an embarrassing light on the Commonwealth’s broken public records law.

Massachusetts actually now ranks among the worst in the nation when it comes to government transparency. The Center for Public Integrity gave Massachusetts an “F” in its most recent 50-state survey of public access to information.

Unfortunately, this should come as no surprise. Massachusetts lawmakers have not updated our public records law for more than 40 years.

Dropping film tax credit to expand EITC is both progressive & populist... why aren't Dems on board?

There's no small irony to today's Mass. GOP trying to rally support for killing the film tax credit. As David Bernstein points out, "Republicans pushed the film tax credits. Romney signed it. Repub legislators voted 100% against Gov [Patrick] attempt to cap it." - promoted by david

As Judy Meredith pointed out earlier this month, Governor Baker’s proposal to kill the film tax credit and use the money to fund an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit is both a great idea, and would be very difficult to fight against. I certainly agree, since film tax credits rarely live up to expectations, while the EITC is a direct help to lower-income state residents who are working hard to get by. Plus, politically speaking, the framing (misleading or not, as some rightly pointed out that it’s part of the larger budget, not a standalone proposal) is just too perfect: cutting corporate welfare to help out the working class.

I was surprised that Dem leadership didn’t simply agree with the proposal and move on. Now, it looks like the GOP is making it a prominent part of their messaging. I got this email today:

The GOP is seizing on this opportunity to frame the Democrats as for corporate interests and ignoring the working class.

The GOP is seizing on this opportunity to frame the Democrats as for corporate interests and ignoring the working class.

They’re even collecting signatures in support of the proposal, and while it only has 438 right now, it was only sent out an hour ago so I could see this gaining a lot of steam. If the Dems want to nip this in the bud, I think it would make sense to endorse the proposal, or else come up with an incredibly convincing explanation why it’s a bad idea. This is soundbite politics at its finest, and if there is a good reason to oppose it — which I’m not currently aware of, but I’m not claiming to be an expert on tax policy — it needs to be turned into as simple of a message as Governor Baker is using.

Let’s take a win when we can, rather than letting partisanship lead us to oppose good ideas and make these charges of “saving a Hollywood handout at the expense of the working class” actually true.

Increase the Gas Tax in Public Transit Regions to Help Fund Transit

I would not be opposed to a regional tax, though I do imagine that Boston's economy feeds the state's coffers, and it doesn't do anyone in the entire state any good if Boston can't get to work. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

The legislature could increase the gas tax by a few cents in public transit territory cities and towns, and uses it to pay for public transit capital expenses. More below the fold.

At Today's House Session: More of Robert (DeLeo)'s Rules of Order

Bob DeLeo breaks the House. Another episode. - promoted by charley-on-the-mta

In our last episode on the parliamentary wrangling between the chambers of the Massachusetts Legislature, House Speaker Robert DeLeo was insisting that under the Joint House-Senate rules, the House was in charge of deciding if and when any bill would move out of committee (and the Senate was in charge of cleaning the chimney and sweeping the hearth). The Senate had responded by proposing changes to those rules to reflect the position of John Adams, among others, that “the House and the Senate are equal.”

Yesterday, a conference committee of the two chambers met for the first time to try to reach a compromise. It didn’t sound like much progress was made, although House member Ron Mariano did comment on how nice it was to see Senate member Anthony Petruccelli.

Speaker DeLeo’s insistence on the prerogatives he claims for the House (which he refers to as “the committee process”) is often in evidence, dramatically so on one occasion last March when he engaged in a labyrinthine series of maneuvers simply in order to avoid having the House act on a minimum wage bill that the Senate had acted on first. Here’s how he explained why such elaborate choreography was required: “It’s always been my feeling that this piece of legislation or any other piece of legislation must go through the committee process and that’s what this bill did, go through the committee process.”

Well, maybe not always. Like the time the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a criminal statute prohibiting the secret photographing of a nude or partially nude person was not broad enough to encompass the modern invasion of privacy known as “upskirting.” The Legislature put a law broadening the statute on the Governor’s desk the next day. When asked why that bill had not gone through the usual committee process, the Speaker replied that “special circumstances” may justify a departure from the committee process: “What I have heard generally from the public on this particular matter, the outrage that I have heard, I feel very comfortable in having the legislation pass without the so-called committee hearing process.”

Looks like we’ll be seeing some “special circumstances” again at Wednesday’s House session. You might have noticed that the owners of Suffolk Downs racetrack in Revere (which as we know is in Speaker DeLeo’s district) reached an agreement recently to bring horse racing back for a two-year period starting this summer. That would be the first good news for Suffolk Downs, whose bid for a casino license lost out last year, in quite a while. In order for horseracing to come back, though, the Legislature needs to approve. And guess what? The bill that the House is planning to pass on Wednesday (a supplementary funding bill that Governor Baker filed for some accounts running deficits, notably snow removal) was amended by the House Ways and Means Committee today to include the statutory green light that Suffolk Downs needs.

So good luck to the Senate — and to all of us — in figuring out when the House means “the committee process” and when it just means “the so-called committee process.”

(Cross-posted at hesterprynne.net)

The case for the T - and more of it

We’re hearing a lot of calls for the MBTA to pare back its expansion plans, and concentrate on maintenance.

Put this together with the common awareness that concerns of regional equity — what’s in it for me? — are a stumbling block to spending anything like what’s necessary, even for upkeep, on the T.

Do you see a problem here? The only way we’re going to move forward on this issue is to include transit expansion into areas currently underserved, and invest in maintenance of the current resources. Why should New Bedford (eg) give up the economic lifeline of South Coast rail so that Cambridge can get to Kendall Square, or so that Lowell residents can get to Boston more easily? And why should I in Arlington expect the same rotten, unreliable service so that Worcester can have more trains?

The only way the politics works is to make the pie higher, to cut everyone into the deal. Cutting off one part of our state or the other is not going to work.

Luckily … the T is really a fantastic asset — when it works. And even in areas thought to be too far removed from Greater Boston to be supportive of the T, rail expansion is really, really popular:

That’s a lot of the state. If this MBTA food is lousy, people sure do seem to want larger portions.

Urban Agriculture

"America was born on a farm and moved to the city." Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform. - promoted by Bob_Neer

Here’s the text of a presentation I did March 4, 2015 at Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Building Energy conference in Boston, MA. This was the first time the conference addressed urban agriculture.

Everybody eats and it’s primarily solar powered. We are all solar powered through the food that we eat. Officially, we produce between 95 and 100 quadrillion btu’s of energy per year in the US, an amount that’s remained steady for the last 15 years or so while the GDP has continued to increase. However, we don’t count any of the sunlight that powers photosynthesis on the crops we consume. All that sunlight is “free” and not included. A back of the envelope estimate is that there’s at least 300 quadrillion btu’s of sunlight required for the photosynthesis that grows our food. Our world is solar powered, has always been solar powered, will always be solar powered until the sun dies out.

Everybody eats and, by last count, 35% of all households in America, or 42 million households, are growing food at home or in a community garden, up 17% in the last five years. Gardening for food tends to go up in times of economic distress. Add those households which grow flowers or have a houseplant and I’d estimate about half of us garden.

Sorry, No Boston Olympics: The Money's On The Other Side

It is an interesting question what the public thinks of the Olympics. A referendum is certainly in order. - promoted by Bob_Neer

London 2012 altYou No Boston Olympics people think you can stop Boston 2024 just because public support is cratering and there are a hundred other things on which we could better spend those billions?

Things like “logic” and “the public good” go out the window when there’s this much money pushing to subsidize the construction and staging of Boston 2024:

Former Gov. Deval Patrick will be compensated $7,500 per day when he travels on behalf of the backers of a bid to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston, according to organizers.

At that rate, Patrick could score half a million dollars by working just 67 days.

Boston 2024 also released information on staff salaries and consultants. Rich Davey, Patrick’s former transportation chief and the Olympic organization’s CEO, annually makes $300,000, while Murphy earns $215,000. Joe Rull, a former top aide to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, makes $175,000 as chief administrative officer. [...]

The Boston 2024 effort is chaired by construction magnate John Fish, and funded thus far with private donations.

We’re still nine years out and consultants have already turned Boston 2024 into a cash cow paying out well over a million dollars a year in salaries alone, along with untold fees to dozens of consulting firms. The Herald’s Chris Cassidy has the full salary list.

But hey, what’s a few million now when John Fish & friends stand to take a huge slice of those taxpayer billions?

Treason, stupidity, or both?

In which the value of BMG as a platform for fulmination is demonstrated. - promoted by Bob_Neer

I am finding it increasingly difficult to understand how any person with an IQ that exceeds room temperature can actually vote for ANY national GOP figure. Wisconsin is bad enough, but Florida is utterly mind-boggling.

The letter to Iran signed by Senate Republicans, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is a flagrant attempt to derail the negotiations between President Obama and Iran. At the same time, we read of Florida Governor Rick Scott forbidding mention of climate change:

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department that has about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ ” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

There is no way to sugar-coat this. The first is simple and intentional treason. The other is mind-numbingly stupid. Presumably the voters in Florida like both. Mr. Rubio joins Mr. Walker in being mentioned (along with Rand Paul) as presidential candidates. Are you KIDDING? These bozos have more in common with Lyndon LaRouch or L. Ron Hubbard than any past or present president.

I don’t know anybody who lives in Florida. I don’t know who in Florida votes for these maroons, but there are apparently a LOT of them. If the taxes in Massachusetts help keep those Florida Republicans in Florida, that alone is reason enough to raise our taxes even higher. If we have voters in Massachusetts who choose to to live in Florida rather than spend a few thousand dollars a year more in MA taxes, I say “don’t let the door hit you on your way out”.

Today’s GOP has moved beyond “partisan” and “hyper-partisan” into treasonous, criminally negligent, abusive of civil rights, and most of all terminally STUPID.

House leadership says WUT

Shaking my head … Just to pile on David’s post from last week, you have to wonder what rock our House leaders have been under. Bob DeLeo and Ron Mariano act as if they have no idea how the MBTA spends its money:

“Well, giving the T more money right now is kind of crazy,” [House Majority Leader Ron] Mariano told reporters after a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo delivered a speech. “I think they have to begin to demonstrate that they can use that money effectively. … There seems to be no one looking at long-term maintenance or any maintenance. So until we can figure out what’s going on over there … I think it might be a little crazy to be spending money.” …

Speaking to reporters after­ward, DeLeo was cool to Baker’s initial plan to boost state funding.

I think we have to try to make sure the house is in order, in terms of the T structure and whatnot, before we talk about additional funds,” he said.

Do these words inspire confidence? Or does it sound like a bunch of ad hoc word salad?

They haven’t figured out “what’s going on over there.” Um, “in terms of the T structure and whatnot.”

Isn’t it their job to know what’s going on?

Do those words inspire any confidence that they’ve been paying attention to a major public resource, one that their constituents use every day? I mean, Ron Mariano is from Quincy — the end of the Red Line. How many of his constituents have been grievously impacted by the T’s failure?

Look, I am all for considered analysis, and certainly I look forward to the Baker committee’s appraisal of the state of the T. But at some point our legislative leaders simply have to act. Every indication says that it’s going to require more money — a lot of it.  If they need to seem reluctant to raise taxes, that’s a political dosido for them to figure out.

But the rest of us have to get to work. A transit system has to work in winter. And for years DeLeo and Mariano have shown no interest in the T, when it was their job to protect and invest in it.

I honestly don’t know how our self-professed progressive caucus in the House can vote for these guys. All set with that.