A study commissioned by the non-partisan economic development organization, MassEcon, and conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute‘s Economic and Public Policy Research group, was recently released. The good news is that the vast majority of companies that chose Massachusetts as a place to expand their business would do it again. This consensus was largely based on Massachusetts’ innovative economy, industry clusters, and skilled workforce.
As with all good news, there are some troubling challenges and concerns that were voiced by the businesses about future growth in the Commonwealth:
TRANSPORTATION: Companies in Greater Boston are concerned about highway congestion and public transit capacity, while businesses outside the urban core worry about a shortage of public transportation. MBTA reliability is vital to the ability to attract and retain workers, expressing concerns that not enough is being done to accommodate a growing population.
HOUSING: The availability and affordability of housing was a significant concern statewide, a challenge to attracting and keeping employees, especially younger employees. Costs in Greater Boston, in particular, are inordinately high, limiting options for low and middle-income workers.
BUSINESS COSTS: In general, for companies locating in Greater Boston the advantage of skilled labor outweighed various higher business costs; but labor, health care, and energy costs were identified as challenges to business in Massachusetts. Business costs seemed to be of less concern to those companies that considered and compared other states than to those already doing business in the Commonwealth. Companies engaged in manufacturing were more sensitive to cost challenges of health care and energy than companies in Greater Boston.
QUALITY OF FUTURE LABOR SUPPLY: Although more than 90 percent of survey respondents said the availability and quality of the workforce were important to their decision to locate in Massachusetts, some companies are struggling to find enough technically trained workers and those with middle-level skills. Continuing to produce talented labor must be a priority for the state, respondents indicated.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE: While over half of the businesses surveyed were solidly favorable about the effectiveness of economic development officials in helping them become established in Massachusetts, others reported that the system is confusing. Some said they sought a “roadmap” with which to navigate the various economic development organizations.
The Commonwealth has been experiencing one of the best periods of economic growth in its recent history. The problem with success is that it sometimes breeds complacency. If we are to maintain and enhance our position as one of the best locations to grow a business, we had better heed the warnings and fix our own house before it begins to lose its luster against all the many worldwide competing centers for growth.
The MBTA has come a long way from the winter of 2015! With the formation of the Fiscal and Management Control Board and the waiver of the Pacheco law (regarding privatization), the T has reduced its operating expenses substantially, allowing more money to go to critical capital improvements. The growth in operating expenses averaged 5% annually over the last 15 years (against a 2% annual increase in revenue during the same period), but, for the first time, showed negative expense growth in 2016, with zero growth projected for 2017!
The reforms are working and consumer ratings are up. Here are some of the changes over the past 18 months that have been implemented to put the MBTA on a fiscally sustainable path:
Introduced monthly financial targets and manager accountability
Moved MBTA onto statewide contracts and payroll system
Streamlined corporate HQ/admin positions with 30% reduction
Strengthened and enforced overtime and attendance policies
Modernized cash-handling & warehouse through contracting
Restructured Carmen’s Union contract work-rules and wage rates
Launched Uber/Lyft and Taxi paratransit pilots
Restructured and refinanced debt portfolio; locked electricity rates
Rebid parking/advertising and raised system-wide fares
$100M winter resiliency investments / $140M in capital lock-box
In addition, the MBTA is in the process of privatizing the “cash room” operation and the manual route scheduling system. Both of these are projected to save the T over $12.2 million annually.
Another example of reforms is the pilot project for “The Ride”, providing access to the disabled community. An average ride has cost the T $46; however, the pilot using Lyft/Uber brought the cost down to $8.98. Along with that, consumer satisfaction shot to 79%. The transit industry standard is 12% and the MBTA, as a whole, has been a -1%.
The next proposal in front of the FMCB will be the privatization of Bus Maintenance. A privatized machinists staffing is projected to be based on 200K miles per machinist versus 100k miles for the current MBTA staffing (requiring half of the current maintenance staff).
NAIOP has been a strong supporter of MBTA reforms and has been a part of a broad business and municipal “Fix Our T” coalition. We encourage the administration and the control board to continue bringing efficiency and cost savings to the T, while investing in its capital plan, providing the riders and the tax payers with a first class transit system.
Yesterday, NAIOP testified at the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting to urge the Board to support the proposed privatization of MBTA services allowed under Chapter 46 of the Acts of 2015. As one of the organizers of the Coalition for a World-Class Public Transit System, NAIOP supported the passage of this important legislation in response to the MBTA’s complete shutdown last winter.
Many of the T’s operational impediments have originated from the inability to efficiently manage many of the non-core services. By looking at the privatized options for some of these services, the MBTA can focus on those operations of greatest value throughout the organization. Utilizing all the tools that are available to the Board at this time is critical to balancing the operating budget and achieving necessary efficiencies.
At the hearing, NAIOP urged the Board to stay on course. There has been, and will continue to be, considerable pushback. However, getting the T back on sound financial footing and increasing the system’s reliability, should be the top priorities.
NAIOP thanks the members of the Board for all the good work they have done and their tireless commitment, focus, expertise and long-term vision to fix the T once and for all.
MassDOT has started a talent search for a range of professionals to work for the agency, as well as for the MBTA. They are looking for the right people with the right skills at the right time, and that time is now! These will be energetic individuals that are familiar with best practices and want to assist in transforming the current transportation system into a world class system.
This is a great opportunity to get involved with an agency that has problems, for sure, but also one that is on the move and seeking change with top notch leadership at its helm. The experience that these new hires will get will be invaluable as they move on with their careers. Or, for more seasoned professionals, this is a great way to give back and shape the future of transportation in the Commonwealth.
It appears that the lengthy, sometimes contentious, legal battle between Wynn Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is over. A “surrounding community” agreement was reached by both parties for the development of an Everett casino. The agreement includes:
$31 million over 15 years for community impact
$25 million over 10 years for Sullivan Square infrastructure improvements
$11 million for traffic mitigation in Charlestown
$250,000 for a regional working group on a “long-term fix” for Sullivan Square
a “good faith effort” to purchase $20 million annually over 15 years from Boston businesses
$1 million for reimbursement of Boston’s professional (legal) expenses.
Wynn Resorts Everett will be a $1.7 billion, five-star, premier destination resort with a 600 all-suite room hotel in Everett, located off Lower Broadway, at the site of the heavily contaminated, former Monsanto Chemical plant. Millions of dollars will be invested to clean and remediate the site and to construct infrastructure and traffic betterments.
The Commonwealth will receive a licensing fee of $85 million, along with 25% of gross gaming revenues, which are estimated to be $260 million annually.
There will be 4,000 full time jobs, as well as over 3,600 construction jobs.
$30 million in advanced payments for a Community Enhancement Fund payable during the construction period
$5 million Community Impact Fee, increasing annually
$20 million for real estate taxes, increasing annually (almost 25% of the city’s tax base)
$250,000 contribution to Everett Citizens Foundation
$50,000 annual payment to purchase vouchers/gift certificates from Everett businesses to be distributed by Wynn as part of its loyalty programs
An estimated $2.5 million per year in hotel and restaurant taxes
An active waterfront park with a winter garden and harbor walk will be created
That’s quite a financial commitment by an out-of-state company to the Commonwealth. In case you haven’t heard it before, welcome to Massachusetts!
The MBTA’s new Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB) has just issued its first 60-day report identifying the scope of the challenges facing the T. The FMCB has been tasked with identifying and shaping solutions to improve operations and performance. The report is extensive, probing, and extremely candid. The Board members should be congratulated on producing such a clear case for moving from the status quo to a system that is reliable, transparent, and sustainable.
It is no surprise that the some of the underlying problems are even more serious than originally thought. Firstly, the MBTA’s annual operating budget is unsustainable, with expenses increasing at nearly three times the rate of revenue growth. Secondly, annual capital spending on deferred maintenance and capital investment is substantially below the $472 million annual spending needed to prevent the backlog from further increasing. The prolonged under-spending has caused the backlog in capital investment to rise to $7.3 billion. The report states that the management team has committed to ensuring that available capital funds are spent, maintaining the MBTA system at a level that will prevent the backlog from further increasing while improving the overall condition of the system and its facilities as expeditiously as possible.
The FMCB has reported some progress:
• Total Capital spending increased to $740 million in FY2015 and is budgeted to be $1.05 billion in FY2016.
• The MBTA planned, designed, and is executing a Winter Resiliency Plan to better prepare the system to withstand major storms and extended periods of cold.
• The MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services have signed a Performance Improvement Plan and are working to address identified shortfalls in performance.
• The FMCB and MBTA management are developing a strategy to make improvements in the procurement and contracting processes and to review all existing service contracts (e.g., the MBTA issued a Request for Information for the private-sector on some low and moderate ridership bus routes, express bus routes, and late-night bus service).
• The FMCB and MBTA management are focusing on performance metrics to drive improvement in MBTA operational practices and to expand transparency and accountability with the riding public.
• The FMCB and MBTA leadership are also pursuing efforts to increase workforce productivity and to reduce absenteeism among MBTA staff.
• The FMCB is committed to a positive employee engagement program, understanding that morale, sense of mission, clear management and decision-making structures, and workforce investments are all necessary ingredients for any successful organization.
It is very clear to the reader of this report that the work of FMCB has just begun. The goal is to have a transit system that is sustainable and accomplishes its mission. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the MBTA will be operating efficiently. It will certainly take a lot of work by a dedicated management team and workforce. However, there is no alternative. Businesses, residents, and workers must have an MBTA that is reliable.
Last night a $38.1 billion state budget (H. 3650) was released from conference committee. NAIOP applauds the conference committee members (House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, Sens. Sal DiDomenico and Vinny deMacedo and Reps. Stephen Kulik and Todd Smola), Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo for their leadership in passing a bill that includes important reforms for the MBTA.
One of the most important aspects of the bill (and something NAIOP has championed) is the creation of a MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board chaired by the Secretary of MassDOT. The budget states that the Fiscal and Management Control Board shall “initiate and assure the implementation of appropriate measures to secure the fiscal, operational and managerial stability of the authority and shall continue in existence until June 30, 2018.” A two year extension beyond 2018 could be granted if needed. The Board shall formulate and recommend a plan to the secretary of transportation to stabilize and strengthen the finances, management, operations and asset condition of the authority. The Fiscal and Management Control Board will also develop performance metrics and measure items included in the plan. NAIOP believes the creation of the Control Board will provide greater accountability and transparency for the T’s governance and management practices and is critical to ensure a safe, reliable, fiscally stable, modern transit system for Massachusetts.
The budget also suspends the Pacheco Law for three years. The Pacheco Law requires a vetting process before privatization of services at the MBTA and, according to a report released today by the Pioneer Institute, it has cost the MBTA at least $450 million since 1997. NAIOP strongly supports this important reform.
The House and Senate are expected to approve the budget today and then it goes to Governor Baker for his review. He then has 10 days to review it review it before signing it and announcing amendments and vetoes.
NAIOP will continue to actively advocate for transportation reforms that support roads, bridges, public transit – and economic growth.