BOSTON’s NEW CITY COUNCIL

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^ District One Councillor-elect speaking at her recent “Birthday bash” celebration

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Much has been made of Boston’s newly elected, 13-member City Council having six women, five who are of color — a first. It is certainly a good thing that candidates do not have to look like me to be elected; yet the important event isn’t what our Councillors look like but what they do and have done to win a majority of the very judicious voters who make Boston democracy so special.

I know every one of the six women very well. I have actively supported the campaigns of three and gotten to know the three others as well as a dedicated journalist can. They are politicians first, which means that they’re careful what they say and accommodate to the realities of Boston’s powerful interest groups. That said, all six have fairly idealistic goals clear to their supporters and shared by them : a City in which every voice feels confident it will be listened to and where no voter should be allowed to lose hope of a better life in this City.

City elections are non-partisan, thank goodness; which means that candidates are free to amass a large following of whoever wants to follow — no one is excluded by registering in this or that political party. All six Councillors of color have achieved that kind of following, some more so than others, due to the nature of their electorate. The three who were elected city-wide — Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley, and Michelle Wu — have perforce a broad coalition of supporters, whereas Kim Janey and Andrea Campbell, representing Black majority Districts,  have a more particularist support group. (Although both Janey and Campbell also enjoy major support from non-Black voters and donors.)

The most fascinating following, however, is t.hat which supports my Council District’s new Councillor, Lydia Edwards. Granted, that District One, which covers East Boston, Charlestown, the North End, and a bit of the Waterfront neighborhood, is home to as varied an assemblage of voters as anywhere in the City, or n the entire state, so that Edwards could not have won without attracting all sorts of voters : rich and poor, young and old, middle c lass, of all sorts of skin colors; long-term residents and new, social justice activists and very right wing anti-establishment folks: she had them all in her 830 vote win — and at her recent “Birthday bash” at Filippo’s in the North End.

The more successful a candidate is at gathering a coalition of the many, the more likely she is to win an election — and the more likely to govern in the interest of all. If that is the measure, as I assert it is, Edwards has a long and significant future in Boston governance.

But so do the other five women of the new Council.

Andrea Campbell will be the new Council President — setting the tone and much of the agenda for the next two years of city policy. Michelle Wu was Council President just before her: she too made very clear her goal of radical inclusivity. Ayanna Pressleyt has now finished first three times among the four City-wide electeds: higher office seems assured if the opportunity opens up. Pressley has already won a major change in City affairs: the opening up to availability of once very limited,m expensive liquor licenses. Essaibi George has yet to choose a single priority as her hallmark, but having now won re-election, she has room to choose one : could schools reform — so very much needed — be the ticket for this former Boston Public Schools teacher ?

Lastly, Kim Janey, District Seven’s new Councillor : she succeeds Tito jackson, who often favored street theater over policy accomplishment. (He was, however, a master street actor, very much in the tradition of his long-ago Roxbury antecedent, James Michael Curley, albeit without Curley’s ruthless mastery of demagoguery and corruption.) Janey is unlikely to be a theatrician. She hails from one of Roxbury’s most prominent activist and business families and may well be a voice for business and entrepreneurship in a Roxbury which, by price and momentum, is fast becoming a high-income and young professional innovation center.

Any one of these six  women could become our City’s next mayor. Will they ? It’s far too soon to know, and the field is not theirs alone. Councillors O’Malley, Ed Flynn, and McCarthy look like very solid contenders, and so do State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and State Representatives Jeffrey Sanchez– now the House’s Ways and Means chairman — and even Adrian Madaro of East Boston. (Councillor Zakim, of District Eight, is choosing a different path : seeking tgo become our Secretary of State.)

The twelve people I have named may look very dissimilar, but all have, or will develop, one political trait in common : appeal to a diversity of interests and voter types. That coalition dominates our City;’s political future is a very positive sign.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

ASSASSINATION

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^ Al Franken : willingly sacrificing himself. Why ?

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Perhaps it’s an overstatement to call the resignation of Senator Al Franken an assassination, but the events of the Ides of March come to mind. You will remember that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by his fellow Senators on the Ides of Mrach in the year 44 B.C., including his close friend Junius Brutus. Shakespeare quoted Caesar’;s words at seeing Brutus come to kill him : “Et tu, Brute ?” Here Caesar used the familiar “tu,” used only by very close personal friends just like “du” or “tu” in modern German on French.

Like Caesar, Franken was forced out by his “friends” — fellow Democrats, 33 in all out of the 48 Senators of that party, some of whom reportedly hugged him after he delivered his resignation speech. Truly bizarre. Ugly, unreal.

But enough of that. The 33 forced him out, and he allowed himself to be forced. He did not fight back. This amazes me. Even Roy Moore, the embattled candidate running in Alabama for that state’;s open Senate seat, has fought back against accusation and an avalanche of calls for him to “drop out.” But Al Franken ? He did not fight back. Willingly he allowed the 33 to end his Senate career.

At this point another analogy comes to mind : the sacrificial rituals of the Aztecs, in which virgin girls were willingly led to the slaughter altar to be offerings to the Aztecs’ gods.

Again, I probably overstate the event. Franken did not lose his life and may well prosper in his next phase, whatever that might be — myself, I can’t see it, except as a witness to bizarro world.

Bizarro it was. There was no outcry from the Democratic base for Franken to leave; indeed, my facebook feed was filled with hundreds of Democratic activists imploring him NOT to resign. Franken was the Democrats’ most effective Senator, a devastating cross examiner, an advocate for reform policies, a potential President. Then why was it done ? Why frag your General ? Far from me to read the minds of 33 Senators, but not far for me to posit a theory: they did it in order to make the 2018 election a referendum on men’s sex lives. Democrats will do whatever it takes (Franken, Conyers) to support women who claim victim status, Republicans refuse to (Moore, Trump). 

Because no one supports sexual assault, and because the presumption among some feminists is that there is “rape culture” afoot, the 33 Senators — and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who forced Congressman Conyers out — are betting that outrage about powerful men abusing vulnerable women will fuel a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2018 and the Presidency in 2020; and they are willing to override all law and due process in order to make this the defining issue in 2018. They have seen the huge wave of Democratic women candidates stepping up to run for all sorts of elected offices, as a protest against Mr. Trump, a man eminently protest-able for his bigotry, ignorance, corruption, and radicalism.

Perhaps the 33 Democratic Senators are right; Pelosi too. maybe the 2018 election’s big issue will be men mistreating women and women punching back. Yet I doubt that will be the case. Most American voters don’t buy raw outrage or the overriding of due process. (Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont actually said, on twitter, that Senator Franken was entitled to an ethics committee hearing but that it would take too long ! Too long for what ? For the 2018 election ?)

Meanwhile, the Republicans press ahead with actual policy. There is much in error, and to correct, in the two tax proposals, now being discussed in joint House and Senate conference, but there is much in them that I like and that you should like, too. (I have posted two columns analyzing the tax proposals, you will find them in our archives.) Yet even if you do find the tax proposals unhelpful, at least they represent an attempt to do actual public policy; and public policy is the mission for which the voters elect Congresspeople and Senators.

Most voters do not judge candidates on the basis of media reports. We’re much smarter than that. We know how to weigh arguments and examine evidence. Centuries of the jury system have taught us instinctively how to be jurors : skepticism about claims and allegations and a well-grounded belief in that old divorce lawyer’s quip that “there’s three sides to every question — his, hers, and the truth.”

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

GOVERNOR BAKER IS “IN”

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^ Governor Baker signs the bipartisan “Contraception Access” Bill,. with almost every major Democratic woman politician on hand.

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A few days ago Governor Baker announced that he is seeking re-election. This is hardly a surprise. Why wouldn’t America’s most popular Governor seek a second term ?

He brings to the table a most impressive record, one that I have almost always supported since the day he first took office. Granted, that credit for his achievements must be shared with the legislature, particularly the House, which has adopted almost all of the following list of reforms, unanimously or close to it :

( 1 ) complete restructuring of how the MBTA is operated, including its financial decisions

( 2 ) limiting the number of opioid pills a physician can prescribe in a 72-hour period

( 3 ) enacting the first comprehensive municipal law reforms in 50 years

( 4 ) assuring no-cost contraceptive health care for Massachusetts women

( 5 ) reforming the Department of Children and Families, including requiring its social workers to be licensed and providing each social worker an iPad so that they can write reports in real time

( 6 ) enacting our first in the nation ban of “bump stocks,” which when tacked onto rifles turn them into automatic weapons

( 7 ) enacting the “TransBillMA,” as twitter users short-hand it — legislation assuring transgender residents full civil right including in all public accommodations, thereby completing legislation only half done in the 2012 session. Baker also strongly and vocally opposes the upcoming ballot question that seeks to repeal this law. Baker also appointed transwoman Sara Schnorr to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women — a first.

( 8 ) successfully achieving a balanced state budget for all three years of his term so far, and doing so by unanimous vote in the House.

( 9 ) shepherding transportation improvements into place whereby greater Worcester is now connected to Boston by non-stop trains.

( 10 ) maintaining Massachusetts’ policy of embracing alternative energy, more so than ever, and devoting resources and personnel to protecting our conservation lands and urban farming projects

( 11 ) bringing workforce to employer connectivities to Western Massachusetts and the Connecticut Valley, areas of the state frequently neglected by Boston politicians.

( 12 ) changing Bridgewater State Hospital from a prison operation to one of treatment, thereby ending, finally, a 40 year scandal of abuse and mishandling of people committed to Bridgewater care. Baker also oversaw legislation that abolished sending to Framingham Women’s Prison women convicted of drug crimes. These women now go to treatment centers.

( 13 ) appointing the state’s first Latino Community Advisory Commission, a vital outreach to the growing number and location of Latino businesses, social organizations, and community concentration.

Baker’s record hasn’t been perfect. He has yet to find a workable answer for protecting undocumented immigrants from ICE harassment, or to provide them driver’s licenses, or to embrace the so-called “Trust Act.” Nor does Baker’s cautious persona, or his refusal to take on battles that aren’t core missions for his job, satisfy those who want him to lead the state’s resistance to President Trump’s many attacks on all sorts of people he wants to demonize and on the rule of law itself. Still, baker has found a way to make his absolute opposition to Mr. Trump felt and heard. As he said at the conclusion of his 2017 “state of the state” speech : “my job is to represent Massachusetts to Washington, not Washington to Massachusetts.” That said it all.

He now enters the re-election highway full of political fuel : a recent poll showed that 68 percent of our voters approve his work, only 14 percent disapprove. Because 36 percent of our state’s voters are Democrats, and because some Republicans disapprove of Baker’s centrist record, he will likely not win 68 percent of the vote; still, his re-election looks on course. Everyone I talk to, in my neighborhood and in my part of the LGBT community, likes him except the committed “progressives.” None of this surprises me. Surprising would be  the most popular Governor in America not being re-elected, or winning re-election narrowly.

Instead, the State House political question that matters is, “what happens after Baker ?” Since 1990, our state has elected Republican Governors almost exclusively — only Deval Patrick’s eight years intervened. The state’s Republican activists saw very well that our voters like d Republican Governors and have been ready to accommodate Governor candidates whose politics are far more centrist, even liberal, than theirs for the sake of Republican victory., Now that seems to be changing. The old, realist cadres are aging fast, and the younger recruits — few in number though they be — are, many of them, unwilling to compromise for victory’s sake : they want Trumpism in policy and personality — radical reaction and rude, angry speechifying.

As Mr. Trump is enormously unpopular in our state (a favorable rating of 25 percent), the Trumpism of our state’s younger Republican activists seems a suicide pill; but to the activists, that’s OK. OK or not, if Trumpism becomes the language of the Massachusetts GOP< there won’t be another, seventh modern-era GOP Governor for a long long time. Baker could well be — probably will be — the last of the current GOP tradition : socially liberal, economically careful.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE TAX BILL : THE GOOD AND THE BAD

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Here’s where the tax bill stands as of today, as it heads to the required Joint Conference of House and Senate :

First, a list of some significant snags to be resolved —

(1) can’t have ACA mandate repeal. The House version doesn’t have it 
(2) student debt interest : House version keeps this deduction, as it should
(3) medical expenses deductions : thank Susan Collins for the Senate Bill’s more generous allowance
(4) the Rubio-Lee proposal to increase the child tax credit and offset it by raising proposed corporate tax rate from 20% to 22% — this should have passed, but it split the GOP caucus and only nine Democrats voted for it. Perhaps they can try a re-vote and do better ? 45 now says that he would support a 22% tax rate for corporations, but the Democrats want it to be 25%.
(5) get rid of the carried interest deduction
(6) include a Bankruptcy Code change that allows most student debt to be dischargable. The current Code prevents almost all student debt from being relieved.
(7) repeal the ACA’s medical instruments tax — supported by MA’s entire delegation other than Liz Warren
(8) make individual tax cuts & credits permanent

( 9 ) assure that State and Local taxes remain deductible so that local and state budgets aren’t hemmed in financially any more than they are already

(10) tax credits for alternative energy must be retained. No tax bill at this time should favor fossil fuel energy.

Did you know that the House version actually includes a stepped up 45% tax rate in certain very high incomes ? I didn’t.

Lastly : the enormous cuts and credits accorded to most earners of 75 k or less means an enormous boost to consumer spending, which is 2/3 of the economy and is by far the major job creator. The GOP talking point for this tax bill is laughable and wrong, but there is enormous job creation in the individual tax cuts & credits themselves, nor the corporate tax cuts, which have other policy purposes — repatriation of funds parked overseas; advantaging investments — that may or may not occur.

What Democratic opponents of the tax reform do not seem to get , or dare to admit, is that its huge tax cuts & credits going to earners of under 75 k is exactly where they should go. The small percentage cuts for most high income earners are economically irrelevant. Those earners mostly save extra dollars. Small earners spend theirs, and there are about 100 million such households. They’re getting an annual money boost of about 3000 $ each = $ 300 billion annually. That’s about 3% of annual GDP. If it is spent, as I think it will be, every year out to 2025 (at least), the effects will be typhoon level.

To sum up : the good aspects of the tax bill are those that the Republicans do not emphasize, while the reforms that they do highlight seem fairly irrelevant and mistakenly advocated for. The tax bill’s economic boost will NOT come from corporate tax rate cuts but from the enormous increase in exempt income for people earning 75,000 or less. (The boost assumes that the final tax bill does NOT include ACA mandate repeal, a bad feature of the Senate bill.)

However : can any tax bill actually get enacted ? The nation is so bitterly divided on this proposal that it seems unlikely. Any tax bill passed without any Democratic support seems doomed to aggravate our already poisonous political split. Yet before we agree that Democrats must be brought into the discussion, there’s the problem that Democrats have already decided they don’t WANT to be consulted. I don’t see how it can be possible to erase that hostility. And if that’s the case, we aren’t likely to get a tax bill; or, if we do get one, it will be a disaster for politics generally.

Let’s see what happens. I doubt it will be happy.

—- Mike Freedbewrg / Here and Sphere

PARSING CONGRESS’s BIG TAX REFORM

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^ Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (l) and Orrin Hatch (r) : the Senate’s tax reform misses the entire point and cannot be supported

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So : can we support the bill, or not ? Do we endorse all of it or only some of it ? Or can we like any of it ? These questions I will try to answer in this, my first report on a proposal already generating a wave of criticism, as expected.

There are two separate tax reform bills on offer. First is the House’s version, which was adopted by a 227 to 205 vote (13 Republicans joined all 192 Democrats voting No). You can read the details of the House bill here : http://blog.acton.org/archives/98766-explainer-what-you-should-know-about-the-gop-tax-plan.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImcfAgMjX1wIVhrbACh26EgZ9EAAYASAAEgI9G_D_BwE

Please note that the final House bill reinstated the adoption tax credit not listed in the above, original version of the House proposal.

It’s not easy, at surface perusal, to fault the bill that the House finally adopted. The mortgage interest deduction is retained, as are deductions for state and local taxes and adoption. The one missing item that matters a lot is the deduction for interest on student debt, and I agree that this deduction should be retained and even expanded.

Beneath the surface, however, the House’s tax reform includes a number of changes that would significantly change the way households compute their taxable adjusted income. Here’s the major changes — a long list, but the tax coed is not short. Study these items carefully :

The highest tax bracket would remain at 39.6%: According to reports, the plan would propose a fourth marginal tax bracket on high-income earners. It will reportedly apply to married couples making more than $1 million a year.

  • New individual tax brackets:
    • 12%: Applies to incomes up to $45,000 for an individual and $90,000 for a married couple.
    • 25%: Applies to incomes up to $200,000 for and individual and $260,000 for couples.
    • 35%: Applies to incomes up to $500,000 for an individual and $1 million for couples.
    • For single parents that are heads of households, the thresholds would be the midpoint between individuals and joint filers, expect for the highest bracket which would still kick in at $500,000.

 

  • A change to the state and local tax deduction. One of the biggest hangups for Republicans in states like New York, New Jersey, and California has been the proposed elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. The benefit allows people to deduct those taxes from their federal bill. Brady said Tuesday the GOP reached a deal that would allow people to deduct state and local property taxes up to $10,000 but not income or sales taxes.

Corporate tax cut will be immediate and permanent. The cut to 20% from the current 35% will is designed to be permanent.

  • Immediate expensing of business investments: Companies can deduct the cost of business investments from their tax bill in the year that they make them instead of spreading it out over multiple years.
  • Elimination of the estate tax. The threshold for the tax, which applies only to estates with greater than $5.6 million in assets during 2018, would double to over $10 million. Then, the plan would phase out the tax after six years. The Senate GOP appears to be mulling preserving at least part of the tax.
  • Repatriation tax rate. The repatriation rate will be a mandatory one time tax on overseas assets for US companies. Illiquid assets would be taxed at a 5% rate, spread out over a longer period than liquid assets like cash which would be taxed at a 12% rate.
  • No repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate. Despite Trump’s last-minute push to eliminate the penalty for not having insurance, such a provision was not included in the plan.
  • No changes to 401(k) plans. Despite a back-and-forth between House tax writers and the White House that appeared to suggest some change to retirement-savings accounts would be included in the tax bill, there were no changes proposed in the first iteration.

 

Increase in the size of the child tax credit. A pet project of Ivanka Trump, the proposal is to increase the credit to $1,600 from $1,000. The bill would also add a credit of $300 for each non-child dependent or parent for five years, after which that provision would expire.

  • Limiting home-mortgage-interest deduction. On new-home purchases, interest on loans up to $500,000 would be deductible. The current limit is $1 million.
  • A larger standard deduction. To avoid raising taxes on those currently in the 10% tax bracket, the standard deduction for all taxes would increase to $12,000 for individuals (up from $6,350) and $24,000 for married couples (up from $12,700). These are slightly less than the doubled deductions expected — and, as Business Insider’s Josh Barro has written, the idea that this would save people money may be misleading since it eliminates other personal deductions and a secondary standard deduction.
  • A 25% rate for pass-through businesses. Instead of getting taxed at an individual rate for business profits, people who own their own business would pay at the so-called pass-through rate. There will be some guardrails on what kinds of businesses can claim this rate, to avoid individuals abusing the lower tax.
  • Elimination of most personal itemized deductions and many credits. The only deduction preserved explicitly in the plan is for charitable gifts and edited home-mortgage interest. Some of these include:
    • Elimination of the student-loan-interest deduction: The amount paid toward student loan interest can currently be deducted.

 

Elimination of the medical-expense deduction: Under current law, individuals who spend over 10% of their income on medical expenses are allowed to deduct part of those costs from their taxes. The proposed new bill would remove that deduction.

  • Elimination of the moving deduction: This allows anyone who moved to a new home in the past year to deduct moving expenses.
  • Elimination of alimony-payment deduction.
  • Repeal of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The tax, which forces people who qualify because of an outsized number of deductions, would be eliminated under the legislation. Incidentally, Trump’s own tax bill has been shown to be millions of dollars more because of the tax.
  • Create a tax on large private university endowments. Private universities with assets of more than $100,000 per student will pay a 1.4% excise tax on their net investment income.
  • Repeal the Johnson Amendment. The current rule prevents tax-exempt nonprofits from making explicit election endorsements.
  • Eliminate the ability to deduct interest on bonds for sports stadiums from federal taxes. Currently, local governments issue bonds to pay for the construction of sports facilities, this would prevent people from deducting interest income form those bonds on their federal taxes.

 

The Johnson Amendment repeal is particularly distressing. Adopted in 1954, this legislation bar religious organizations from participating directly in political activity — a barrier well conforming to the precepts of the Constitution’s First Amendment. Right-wing religion interests already impact our public policy, greatly impeding the Constitutional right of women to control their own bodies and, in many cases, denying full civil rights to LGBT people. The last thing our policy makers should be doing is giving even greater political clout to anti-civil rights interests.

As you can see, elimination of several other current deductions will impact middle-class taxpayers quite negatively, and the increased standard deduction doesn’t come close to compensating. Other deductions and credits impact particular classes of taxpayer : ( 1 ) the deduction for school supplies bought by teachers is eliminated (2 ) the $ 600 increase in the child credit seems stingy. If we want to help working FAMILES, why not raise it by at least $ 1,400 ?

Unfortunately, on many counts, the Senate bill is even more unacceptable, especially as amended by committee Chairman Orrin  Hatch :

  • The amended bill would slightly cut individual tax rates for multiple brackets and set seven rates: 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 38.5 percent. Those changes, as well as the near doubling of the standard deduction, would expire after 2025. The reduced corporate tax rate, down to 20 percent from 35 percent, would be permanent.
  • The child tax credit would rise from $1,000 to $2,000. It would start to phase out at $500,000 in household income. The change would also sunset after 2025.
  • As expected, the plan would effectively repeal the Obamacare individual mandate, which requires most Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty. Senators say doing so will save more than $300 billion to give Republicans more budget flexibility. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will lead to 13 million more people uninsured by 2027 and increase average Obamacare premiums.
  • The Senate plan would expand proposed tax breaks for pass-through businesses. Those would also expire after 2025.
  • It also gets rid of a provision that would have taxed company stock options when they vest. Silicon Valley had opposed that measure, saying it would suffocate entrepreneurial effort

The Senate’s plan is what it is because the House legislation increases the national debt, which means that the Senate would need 60 “yes” votes to approve it, and 60 voters it cannot get. Senator Hatch’s proposal is said to be “revenue neutral.”

I cannot endorse his proposal, however. Making corporate tax cuts permanent while phasing out individuals’ deductions is bad policy, unfair and exactly wrong. If any tax changes should phase out, it’s the corporate cuts. I also decry Hatch’s lack of a deduction for student debt interest. The entire student debt riddle needs major reform. Student debt hangs over every gradure’s head at dollar levels that only the job-fortunate graduates can ever dispose of.  Student debt is also exempted from bankruptcy relief — an unfairness with zero justification that I can think of. A debtor in bankruptcy can discharge IRS bets, but not student debt ? Give me a break. What does student debt support ? Inflated salaries for university administrators, including those at for-profit colleges — there shouldn’t even BE for-profit education, much less undischargeable debt to support such profits.

Hatch’s proposal also eliminates the “individual mandate ” that is the cornerstone of Obamacare, thus seeking the very undermine that Congress correctly refused ti app0rove in at least two separate votes earlier this year. Given the elimination of the ACA’s basis as well as the refusal to adjust student debt, hatch’s proposal can NOT be supported. It must fail.

Which brings tax reform back to the House version. It needs some Democratic support if it is to get by the Senate’s 60 vote rule. I think that if a deduction for student debt interest is added to the House version, and assuming that its individual deduction reforms are not phased out, it might gain some Democratic support. That it increases the national debt, at a time when interest rates remain historically very low  — barely above one percent — seems to me a nonce. Why not borrow money if the cost of it is practically nothing ?

Let’s see if our Congress can get past its donors’ self seeking demands and onto a policy that benefits almost everybody.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

FIXING THE “T” REMAINS A BIG CHALLENGE

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^ Governor Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack watch as new Orange Line cars get delivered

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Governor Baker’s office recently announced two significant improvements to our region’s transit services : first, new orange Line cars are starting to arrive for service — much needed to replace cars almost 40 years old and just about finished. Second, the MBTA’s Fiscal Control Board will be asked to approve a $ 720,000,000 installation of an al-electronic fare collection system that will, hopefully, eliminate fare jumping and make collection of fares just about fail safe.

You can read the Baker administration’s full report on “T” improvements here : https://blog.mass.gov/transportation/mbta/baker-polito-administration-mbta-welcome-345-new-buses-as-fmcb-marks-two-years-of-reform-progress/

These are good advances. Same can be said for the recently announced $ 1 billion savings won by Baker’s MBTA administrators for the cost of extending the Green Line. Nonetheless, fixing the “T” remains a challenge, because Boston’s population continues to grow, placing a non-stop burden on “T” service even as improved :

( 1 ) more people living in the City itself mean more “T” riders and more hours of operation. Today, the “T” shuts down between one ABM and five AM. That likely cannot continue. It’s already a large inconvenience.

( 2 ) extending the Green Line and adding more trains means more use of electric power. Yet Eversource’s planned new substations in the City have drawn significant opposition.

( 3 ) the need for added electric power will only grow, as the proposed electronic fare collection system is installed (if approved) and as further transit extensions — connecting Blue Line to Red, extending the Blue Line to Lynn, expanding the Silver Line to Chelsea and connecting it to the Blue Line — win budget allocation and go into service five to ten years from now.

( 4 ) electric power shortages will also increase as the Pilgrim nuclear power plant is shut down in 2019.

( 5 ) strong opposition to increasing our area’s natural gas supply via pipelines portends no relief from that power source either.

( 6 ) as more Boston newcomers opt not to own cars, ridership on the “T” will; increase even more than anticipated, imposing a burden on scarce electric power beyond the impacts I have listed above.

Transit service seems the transportation method that most people will use in the coming decades, more so than bicycles, perhaps as common as cars and trucks. If Boston in year 2030 contains 750,000 to 850,000 people — an increase of 100,000 to 200,000 from our 1970 population — both transit and the electric power that moves it will have to increase accordingly. Cars of the future will also use more electricity and less gas. Where is all of this added power supply to come from, if not from expanded Eversource substations and transmission lines ?

Then there’s the money factor. The State’s budget is already squeezed toward deficit status by the huge health care cost burden left to us by Washington’s refusal to continue subsidizing the State’s largest budget item — some 40 percent of our $ 40 billion total expenditure. How are we going to pay the approximately $ 5 billion to $ 6 billion of upgrades needed to bring the full “T” system up to “state of good repair” ? You might answer : the two-tier tax initiative to be voted at the 2018 election earmarks its revenue to transportation (and education). Perhaps; but the legislature has never carried out voters’ earmarks, and I am skeptical it will do so now.

As I see it, the FY 2019 state budget will need to add at least $ 2,000,000,000 to the usual “T” budget, and the same seems the case for FY 2020, 2021, and 2022 as well. Where will the money come from ? The legislature is not ready to raise voters’ tax burden, nor is the Governor likely to become a tax increaser.

There are two options; but I don’t foresee either of them coming to pass any time soon :

First, we could raise the minimum wage to $ 15/hour, thereby changing 500,000 minimum wage earners from EITC (earned income tax credit) recipients to actual tax payers. Or, we could allocate some of the two-tier tax initiative’s education earmark to transportation instead. Neither option seems likely, which means that the costs of improving “T” service for our expanded population won’t be met; which means that “T” service will not meet commuters’; coming needs. Which means the Boston economic boom bumps up against a bottleneck that can only be by-passed, not resolved, by increasing the amount of “T” operation done by private contractors with every incentive to skimp on quality and to pay their employees skimpy wages: which are the opposite of what we should be doing.

I will be most interested to find out what the legislature’s answer is to these riddles. Also the Governor’s.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sp0here

 

SHOULD EAST BOSTON ACCEPT EVERSOURCE’s PROPOSED SUBSTATION ?

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^ opponents of the Eversource substation proposal feel that the site is much too close to inflammable fuel storage. Is this so ?

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About three years ago, Eversource, which provides electric power to East Boston and much of the metropolitan area, filed with state regulators a plan to site an electricity substation on land it owns at Eagle Square. The utility asserts an immediate need for increased and more reliable power supply.

I intend to opine on the upcoming decision, by the Public Utilities Commission, whether to approve the site or not; but first, you may read for yourself the Eversouce proposal, and the firm’s justifications, at two links :

https://www.eversource.com/Content/ema-c/about/major-projects-infrastructure/massachusetts-transmission-projects/mystic—east-eagle—chelsea-reliability-project

and

http://www.transmissionhub.com/articles/2016/05/eversource-files-initial-brief-with-massachusetts-siting-board-for-proposed-115-kv-project.html.

Not surprisingly, Eversource’s proposal sparked a ton of opposition. You can read the o9pposition’s arguments here :

http://www.eastietimes.com/2017/03/03/channel-fish-makes-last-push-to-stop-eversource-substation/

On November 30th, the Public Utilities Commission will hold a hearing at the State House, to determine if it should give final approval to Eversource’s proposal. The opposition intends to fill the hearing room with those who do not favor having an Eversource substation under any circumstances. As the above link reads, Channel Fish Company and its principal, Loulis Silvestro, continue to fight the Eversource proposal all the way, Channel beliveing that Eversource doesn’t give two hoots about the electric company or the neighborhood’ s diverse residents.

My personal opinion is that the Eversource proposal should be approved, unless ( 1 ) it can be shown that additional power supply is not urgently needed or ( 2 ) the overall power supply to East Boston falls far short of expected capacity demand. Here’s why I support the power addition :

That more power supply is needed is indisputable, East Boston’s population having added some 20,000 people since 2009. Right now these folks may in some cases be using unauthorized power, thus putting additional pressure on a system of energy distribution already close to bankruptcy. Unauthorized power is a danger to the entire system.

The substation’s proposed location is troublesome — but not unreasonable. The site at issue lies very close to a major ball field at which the  City’s Park league holds its games. That much is true. Channel Fish’s Silvestro alleges that the proposed pipe line lies much too close to his facility, putting his fish at risk. The area’s residents complain that above ground power lines out their children at risk of lethal electrocution. Lastly, they assert that the substation will stand dangerously close to inflammable fuel storage tanks, so why risk that ?

My view is that these objections can both be met and at no great cost. Regulations regarding the proximity of power lines to ball fields and schools can be drafted and should be. As for the neighbors’ objections, these tear at one’s heart but probably do not predict events. The potential for children wandering into a live transformer wire zone is real, but hardly impossible to prevent. Lastly, the claim of too great a proximity to major fuel storage tanks can be responded to. Those tanks are all attached to their station by electric wiring. It doesn’t seem likely that oil tanks already wired will become more dangerous because the substation that serves them if located nearby.

Eversource must be able to meet all objections and likely can do so. Electricity has always been dangerous to create and transmit. Eversource has decades of experience confronting the dangers of electric power transmission and storage. Of course we cannot allow Eversource to build an unsafe power facility, nor a leaky one; my sense of it is that of all the risks involved in the planned substation,  electricity’s danger is something that Eversource is most well prepared to minimize.

Such is the positive case for approving the Eagle Square substation. The case for disapproving will surely be testified to at the November 30th hearing, complete with evidence and assessments. We will be eager to hear the opposition’s best case.

However : if the entire community needs this power increase, as Eversource asserts it does, why should a few be allowed to inconvenience the many ? Power is essential to everything in modern life. A home can’t run without it, you can’t recharge your smart phone, you can’t refrigerate, you can’t heat your residence. Businesses can’t operate either. It’ll have to be shown me quite conclusively, that Eversource is mistaken about upcoming power needs, before I will oppose the substation entirely — although the safety concerns raised by neighbors and by Channel Fish certainly do merit diligent mitigation.

So, is there in East Boston a grave need for more power locally ? Perhaps the November 30th hearing will answer some of these crucial questions.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere