WAYS TO AVOID A DEVASTATING WORKERS’ STRIKE

These folks deserve every bit of the support we all are giving them

The strike against Stop & Shop by UFCW workers has almost completely closed the grocery retailer’s New England business. As the Boston Globe reports, even in wealthy communities people aren’t crossing the picket line. In my own neighborhood, parking lots at the two Stop & Shop stores stand as empty at 10.00 am as they normally do at midnight — maybe even emptier, because on a usual midnight the Stop & Shop clean-up crew is working, and delivery trucks are being unloaded. Not now.

How did Ahold-Delhaize, the publicly traded international firm that owns Stop & Shop, so badly misjudge ? As the Globe story notes, if even five percent of Stop & Shop customers get used to shopping elsewhere and don’t come back, it’s terrible for a business that operates on a 1.5 percent profit margin. It’s not as though Stop & Shop has monopoly power. Shoppers have plenty of options, and Stop & Shop prices, on most items, are much higher than at Market Basket, for example; and Market Basket pays its workers better and offers them profit-sharing. I do stuff for a firm that performs contract work for Stop & Shop, and I am now shopping exclusively at Market Basket; the stores I shop at are super busy, and people who may not have shopped there before have to be amazed at the prices, compared to most offerings at Stop & Shop.

How the blazes did Ahold-Delhaize end up in this predicament ? I see a whole host of reasons :

( 1 ) as a publicly traded company, Ahold is, like all the rest, pressured by hedge fund speculators, quick flip day traders, and take-over specialists buying controlling amounts of company stock in order to force “maximizing stock value,” which almost always means squeezing thousands of workers out and cheating the rest, because the quickest way to widen a profit spread is to cut week to week costs. That this kind of very short term earnings boost hurts the company long term is of zero interest to the hedgers and quick flippers, because as soon as the stock price reflects the quick fix, they’re out, letting their buyers hold the wounded bleeding corporate animal their amputations leave behind. The only current way to avoid this kind of extortion is for management to own a controlling block of stock: but these days, few publicly traded corporations enjoy this level of long-term, stable financial commitment.

( 2 ) you do not try to protect corporate profits by squeezing workers at a time when there’s an actual labor shortage, as exists right now. Ahold can’t get replacement workers, because there aren’t any, and its strikers can easily find fill-in work themselves because almost every labor-intensive business needs line people badly.

( 3 ) the past two years, almost every kind of labor action, from teachers to utility workers to hotel and university service workers, has ended up a big win for the strikers. Did Ahold-Delhaize think things would be different ? For a business surrounded by easily accessible competition ?

( 4 ) If you operate a labor-intensive business, you have to accept that your workers are your asset — almost by definition. You cannot see them as a cost item, because that view leads to where Ahold is now. You really must follow the lead of Costco, Trader Joe’s, Target, and Market Basket : pay your workers a much higher wage than the minimum, offer stronger benefits and longer paid vacations than standard, and give every vested employee a profit sharing participation. This last item especially seems crucial. If your employee has an ownership stake in your success, she will work with some enthusiasm and also not seek a better job as quickly as possible, as many workers now do because they have to, given the minimal level of pay too many labor-intense businesses impose.

( 5 ) even a labor-intense business has to think beyond its niche. Business models aren’t guaranteed. Competition and innovation affect them. Grocery stores can’t continue to offer every sort of product on a very thin markup because far too many shoppers these days prefer special items that a general store can’t market as efficiently as a specialty store. Specialty retailers offer stuff that shoppers see as superior quality at premium prices — think Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, but also small, local, one or two-location stores — and even people who use food stamps and thus have to budget rigorously are willing to buy less quantity in favor of higher quality, because who likes goods inferior ? No one that I know. Ahold stores offer specialty items that differ from store to store, but too much of what they try to sell doesn’t sell; every cycle, their reset teams remove tons of, discontinued items — called “disco” — that did not sell but occupied shelf space and required much worker time to stock. (You’ve seen, I’m sure, those workers stocking 22 aisles of stuff; they do it all day long, from 7 am to 9 pm.) Specialty stores enjoy much more efficient control over their stock. Because they appeal to niche markets, they offer only products in that niche, which means that they have much less product to waste work time discontinuing because it didn’t sell. Ahold operates almost like a consignment store : a product gets a shelf space — which shelf and where on it is decided by a computer-generated shelf plan — and if it sells, great; if not, it is de-shelved. Yet Ahold is NOT a consignment store. Consignment stores are specialty retailers. Consigned goods are all that they offer, and they are usually very small operations with very few staff who work mostly on commission. Ahold can’t do that. If it wants to offer specialty goods within its store space, it probably should lease out a portion to a concession operation — assuming that union rules allow it.

All of the above explain, I hope, the predicament that Ahold finds itself in and for which it has no answer except the huge blunder it now has to find a way out of.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

WE SUPPORT THE STOP & SHOP WORKERS. HERE’s WHY

striking for a fair contract

Last Thursday, at 1.00 p.m., Stop & Shop’s wage employees began a strike against the company, which is part of Ahold-Delhaize, a firm headquartered in the Netherlands. We support the workers. Read our argument for why we support them :

Ahold is looking to increase workers’ dollar contribution to its health care plan. This has become a standard negotiation position for many companies. It was the central feature of the National Grid dispute that arose last year and of the Verizon conflict the year before that. It’s true that health care costs generally are rising much faster than the economy is growing, much of it resulting from vastly increased drug prices. The proper response, I insist, is not to penalize workers but to negotiate better price deals with pharma companies. Massachusetts is doing this, why can’t Ahold ?

The company also offers its workers a two percent pay boost. That’s less than the COLA upon which Social Security payments were raised last year (and will be raised again this year) and much less than the raises being won by service workers in other industries. If the average Stop & Shop worker wage is $ 21.50 an hour — which seems high — a two percent boost moves it from $ 21.50 to $ 21.93. That’s $ 17.20 a week, $ 68.80 a month. Not exactly a boost to one’s family budget, many costs in which incur much more than two percent increases. For example, MBTA fares, which on July 1, 2019 will rise by 6.3 percent. The price of gasoline in our area has also risen, from about $ 2.29 a gallon to about $ 2.55. That’s a 13 percent increase. Ahold should commit to a boost of at least the 6.3 percent, and the 13 percent would not be unjustified either. A 13 percent increase would accord its workers $ 24.30 an hour, $ 97.20 a week, $ 388.80 a month. That’s a significant change, one that enables Stop and Shop workers to increase their spending into the general economy, even.

Ahold also proposes to pay its part time Sunday workers only a $ 2.00 an hour premium. Some have argued that the “time and a half” that workers once got for Sunday employment was bargained away in last year’s “Grand Bargain,” but that’s not appropriate here. Part time workers for Sunday only aren’t giving up one thing to get another, better thing. They work only on Sunday and so deserve to be bargained with strictly as such. A $ 2.00 premium would be OK if attached to the kind of regular hourly that I have suggested above. Otherwise, they ought to receive more.

Supermarket operations depend on labor intensity. You can add self check out, but cashiering is the least part of operating a supermarket. The bigger part is shelf stocking. Only humans can do shelf stocking — and price tagging. These jobs can’t be outsourced. It’s physical labor, all of it, a mind-numbing, detailed slog. You wouldn’t want to do it. There’s no skill acquisition in it that leads you to a more challenging position. You just do it, year after year. Exhausted physically and mentally scooped out.

Some S & S workers aren’t always smiling or gracious ? believe me, there’s a reason. I’ve seen Stop & Shop workers on the job because the job I have now involves interaction with them. It’s blue collar work requiring your full commitment, a job that isolates you from the social world and the political. You begin at 7.00 am and work through to quitting time; a second shift follows. The shelves must be stocked, old items removed, price tags updated, fast-moving items shelved favorably, other items shelved less so. Some of the items are fitted into sliding plastic slots which must be moved if the item being inserted has a different size. These shelves don’t always slide easily: the plastic becomes old and sticks on the sliders. Try doing this work for five hours and see how happy you feel about stuff…

Stocking items means constant movement of one item to another’s location, and that items to another spot, and so forth. Meanwhile other workers are off loading bulk deliveries from food service trucks, categorizing, moving them in quantity from off load rooms to the store floor. Other workers maintain the data bank upon which shelf plans are predicated and price tags — fully coded with store code and item code — updated and printed. Its both a body job and a mind job. Just you try doing it for a week and see how you feel at the end of the workday. The ,least Stop & Shop can do is reward its employees liberally enough that they feel valued and that the job is worth every minute of effort.

The company responds that it operates on a very thin profit margin — never more than 1.5 percent — and that it faces mostly non-union competition as well as the presence of specialty stores and online grocery applications. All true. It may be that the general supermarket business model no longer works, that people now prefer to buy specialty items, at higher prices, or to order stuff from online sources. This is how almost all retail is going, so it’s no surprise to see it dominating the current groceries situation. What’s the answer ? Clearly Ahold ought to think about restructuring Stop & Shop operations quite radically, to become both an online operation and a specialty store. In part, it’s already doing that : different stores offer different items, locally favored, on top of the general stuff. Until that decision is made — and I think it will have to be — Ahold has the market power to defend a profit margin one fifth of a percent less — 1.3 % — against all comers, a margin that it might have to accept in order to keep its workers fully engaged and economically viable. I don’t see how the current dispute can end any other way, which means that Ahold ought to reach such an outcome now, not two months from now when shoppers have found comfort buying from other food sources.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AS A WEDGE

The progressive wedge : DA Rollins sees an opportunity to advance the entire movement

You might think that reforms to how we handle criminal charges might be easy now that major portions of both political parties support them. Unhappily, your thinking thus would be wrong. A big battle has recently erupted, between the Governor and the District Attorney in charge of Boston. How did this happen at a place and time of general agreement ?

Last year the Massachusetts legislature enacted, and Governor Baker signed, a significant reform to our state’s handling of criminal justice. Little controversy attached to the effort. Aside from objections chiefly by Bristol County’s Sheriff Hodgson, the legislation was enacted by an overwhelming vote: 37 to 0 in the Senate and 148 to 5 in the House. The bill moved Massachusetts criminal law in the direction of treatment and away from incarceration; it did away with mandatory minimum sentences for addiction crimes. Consensus is the essence of Masslive’s report on the bill’s enactment, in this article from a year ago :
https://www.masslive.com/politics/2018/04/gov_charlie_baker_signs_landma.html

As the report makes clear, Governor Baker offered a few tweaks to the bill, all of them itemized in the report. He then filed his own bill in support of those tweaks. So far his bill has not been acted upon. What is now clear, however, is that the next step in reform will not be as easy as last year’s work. Baker has found himself embroiled in a fierce debate with Suffolk’s District attorney, Rachael Rollins, over her now notorious “list” of fifteen smallish crimes that she will not prosecute absent special circumstances and office support. The debate started when Baker’s Secretary of Public Safety, Thomas Turco III, sent Rollins a letter critiquing her list of non-prosecutions. Masslive wrote the following report, in which Turco is quoted objecting to several items in Rollins’s list of changes :
https://www.masslive.com/boston/2019/04/top-public-safety-official-in-mass-warns-suffolk-district-attorney-rachael-rollins-that-her-policies-would-put-public-at-risk.html

Turco’s letter raised other concerns, ones that I admit to not having noticed when Rollins published her “list” last year : especially her suggestion that the criminal histories of persons cannot be accessed beyond 36 months back. As Turco points out, this limitation would, if adhered to literally, block out some of the most serious offenders, as — so he notes — most of them would have been incarcerated for the past 36 months (and more), during which they would therefore have no criminal history for that time frame. It’s a fair criticism.

That said, Rollins’s response to the letter was not to publish a rebuttal but to attack the Governor on a personal, family level. Her attack generated both outrage and celebration, and wisely, I think, she and the Governor called for a “reset” — not that anyone out here was lulled by the call, yet it was still a wise public move. Said “reset” lasted only one day. Next morning, Rollins was calling out Democratic office holders who had not rallied to her side ( and there were plenty of these).

(My thinking is that her advisers got to her and said something like “you don’t want to cool this dispute off, you want to charge it up, it’s an opening for our side — the “progressives” — against the beacon Bill Democratic establishment. We tried that with the Safe Communities Act, but they wouldn’t take the bait, and Baker didn’t either; now we have another chance, on a less thorny issue, let’s go for it.” I can’t prove that something of this sort transpired, but why else would Baker and Rollins agree to a “reset,” only to see Rollins go back to attack mode just one day after ? The opportunity is there, as Baker wants the tweaks of rigor which I discussed above, while Rollins wants criminal justice to reform even further in the direction of alternative sentencing rather than conviction and incarceration.)

Rollins may well be right to want further reform; a case can certainly be made that conviction and incarceration have been too liberally applied to smallish crimes which more confident Western societies in the past often handled as matters of fine or money compensation. Nor can anyone dispute that our incarceration preference costs enormous amounts of money and subjects far too many people to the horrors of imprisonment. It’s hard enough for people to become imprisoned thereby subjecting their lives and bodies to the whims of some guards, without their having to suffer the risks of injury, rape, and even murder, that occur in almost every American prison. Our incarceration preference has also led us to create private prisons — a barbarity that should never, ever have been permitted, in any jurisdiction. For these reasons, as well as the job and housing deprivations that cripple anyone who has been incarcerated, I support the general purposes that Rollins is advancing.

I also suspect that Governor Baker agrees with her and that they differ only on the details of her plan. So why has the discussion between them taken such an adversarial turn ? I think we know the answer : Rollins is not only the Suffolk District Attorney. She’s a leader of an entire movement, by “progressives,” to take charge of Massachusetts’s public policy generally. The movement has some legs thanks to her election and that of Congresswoman Pressley — not to forget the defeat of House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez by a woman whom Rollins campaigned closely with — and Rollins is now using the opening that Secretary Turco’s letter gave her to force the Democratic establishment — whose views on most issues are very different from hers and the movement’s — to defend itself on an issue where alternatives to Rollins’s agenda are few and risk sounding racist, a card central to her reform justifications..

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE TRANSPORTATION THING AGAIN…

Rush hour traffic on I-93 viewed from Southampton St. in Boston

A couple of days ago, a truck accident in the Sumner Tunnel turned Boston’s expressway traffic upside down. Gridlock extended for miles and lasted for hours. Thousands of drivers fumed and fussed; passengers missed appointments. Everybody was late for work, or to return home from work. Excess pollution barfed the atmosphere. It was a damned messy magillah with zero escape. Politicians swore to fix the mess. Alternative transportation became the golden calf. And so it went last Friday in Boston, a city booming with business, population, and bumper to bumper crush.

There isn’t much one can do about accidents, but that did not stop politicians from advocating all sorts of remedies that won’t work much. An accident in one of the tunnels leading into and out of Downtown definitely hits the weak points; yet it’s hard to see how our transportation system can account for them. Alternative transportation, such as ferries, doesn’t work because who would use them except during the one tenth of a percent time when an accident blocks the roads ? They’d be sitting there, bored at the dock, waiting for the magical hour of their greatest need. We could build duplicate tunnels : but the same argument applies to these. Who would use the duplicate tunnel except during a crisis ? That, or, maybe an extra tunnel would gin up extra traffic: it’s kind of an axiom that the more roads you build, the more cars will find their way to use them. In any case, it might take 20 years to plan and build extra tunnels and get them safely through 20 thousand environmental regulations.

If alternative transportation doesn’t work — it might be a good idea to create it, but on its own, not as a crisis savior — and as duplicate tunnels aren’t likely to be built, can we do anything at all to keep Boston moving during an accident in a tunnel ? We could, I suppose, forbid accidents in the first place — just penalize those who suffer an accident even more than those who cause one, by imposing a ruinous toll on big scary trucks at tunnel entrances. Perhaps we could ban vast trucks altogether and have big bulk goods transported only by Harbor barge. I dunno… Perhaps we could create truck-only lanes and wall them off from the general traffic. Only problem there is that entrances onto the Central Artery are one lane wide, not two. Oh well.

The big problem is that cities change much more flexibly than transportation systems. When you build an expressway, or a tunnel, or a rapid transit line, or exit ramps, what you build is literally cast in stone. The city around it may ebb or flow, boom or sag, grow busy or fall empty and do all of that naturally and easily because the human body can move on its own; it is NOT written in stone. Not so with roadways and rails. These use rights of way that can’t be shifted from here to there. The cement and steel they’re built with are a fact on the ground — cannot be moved. And if they can be blasted and demolished, and new ones created in their place, that’s not a project one can undertake on a whim or every time that traffic sticks.

Boston’s roads and transit lines were built in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1950s-1960s, or they were built in the 1990s to plans drawn up in the 20s, 30s, 50s and 60s. Their location and size concurred with traffic expectations and transport modes assumed two to three generations ago. If we now commit to a major transit and roadway overhaul, and to new devices for transporting, what we decide actually to build won’t be in service, likely, til the 2030s. By which time, who knows what Boston’s mobility demands will be ? Of course we could just decide to snuff the Boston boom out and revert to the Boston of 1970, that nobody wanted to live in, that had nothing going on, in which house prices were dirt cheap because everybody with an option at hand wanted out to the suburbs. We could go back there, perhaps, but chances are we won’t do that. Most likely the City will continue to boom and build for several decades to come. Maybe only sea rise will stop it. Which means that we and our kids and grand-kids are going to be living with stalled traffic and fewer transit lines than needed. (The Blue Line would benefit enormously from expansion to Lynn, or beyond, but this has been talked about since 1990 to no avail, nor do I hear any sort of viral outcry now to do said expansion.) There will surely be expansion in some service, and perhaps some alternative roadways and dedicated lanes, but the law of traffic likely applies : build more roads and more traffic will use them.

To sum up : we should continue to commit to T expansion where feasible, create dedicated roadway lanes, and add bus routes and increase our Harbor taxi service — not because it will cure the crush but because they make sense to provide. We can also bulk up highway and transit rescue crews — it should not take two or three hours to clear the expressway of an accident. We should NOT try to tweak the public with give-away T fares, or chivvy drivers by imposing price benefits on those who can flex their driving day into the off-peak hours (this magic is called “congestion pricing.” It would turn the work day upside down.) There is plenty, I suggest, that can be done and just as much, if not more, that shouldn’t be done. Other than these predictions, however, I have one more : almost certainly we’ll have to live with, perhaps sometimes enjoy, the density, in everything, that accompanies city prosperity.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

“We’re creating a Constitution here…”

Analogizing the Suffolk Downs development’s public discussion to a Constitutional convention ? Yes indeed

Last night, at one of the many public meetings going on these days concerning the vast Suffolk Downs proposal, Lydia Edwards — District One’s City Councillor — was seeking how to explain to a room full of East Boston’s most needful people what she was urging them to conceive. The neighborhood’s very low income people, many of them homeless, don’t often engage with city planners and vast real estate build-outs; questions were asked that made it fairly evident that many didn’t quite understand what part they were asked to play in deciding what sort of project Suffolk Downs’s 10,000 housing units and hundreds of commercial spaces would end up as. Edwards was listing the parameters of the proposal, and the numbers, and the rent costs in full detail; and she wanted her listeners to ask questions, to challenge the project’s design, to offer their own opinions.

“Look,” she ended up saying, “this is your project as much as it is theirs. This is a Constitution we’re making, it’s like the Constitution, and we’re creating it !”

This was adventurous language indeed. Yet it seemed to register. People asked more confident questions, demanded stuff that the Suffolk developer ought by now to know the East Boston community wants and expects.

I’m not going to discuss those expectations any further in this column because I’ve already written about the Suffolk project at length. What I want to write about here is Edwards’s using the Constitution as an example of community engagement with a major issue (and housing is about as major an issue right now, in Boston, as it, gets).

Most of us, I think, regard the Constitution — if we think of it at all — as something drawn up long, long ago by men who wore powdered wigs and buckle shoes, some of whom owned slaves, all of whom were white males. It’s there, we feel, the way a huge granite building is there, or the Interstate Highway System, or a vast bureaucracy. Many of us, in the age of Mr. Trump, talk about the Constitution as we haven’t ever done before, as justification for what we don’t like about his willful orders and such like. We say “but the Constitiution says,” as if we were saying “Highway XXX is there, it goes from A to B, and you damn well better not make it go to point C,” or we may say, “if Trump says A goes to c and not B, he is making Route XXXS great again !” This is the current Constitutional custom.

But what if we were tasked with creating a Constitution ? A set of basic rules for how to do this or that ? Can we even imagine that such power is given to us ? Let us recall that the Constitution we all know about was created to change the basic rules of how the 13 original states were interacting with each other because the original set of rules was not working. And so those who were delegated to fix the rules drafted an entirely new set of rules. That is what Edwards was suggesting, I think correctly : the current rules by which housing is built in Boston are not working, or are working the wrong way, and we the people ought to convene and together create new rules that can work. Heady stuff, but why not ? The Constitution of 1787 was submitted to ratification conventions to which delegates elected by all the voters of that year were elected. Since in 2019, in Boston, every citizen 18 years old or older can vote, why not engage every such citizen in the fight to create development rules that work as they should ? And to those who say, “my vote doesn’t make any difference,” all I can respond is, “you’re very wrong.” Believe me, politicians listen. They may not tell you they listen, or they may not listen to you every day, but they do listen when the chips are down.

That, anyway, is the faith that Edwards has and ponied up to the betting game that is the future shape of the 10,000 housing unit Suffolk Downs development, 151 acres of land with hundreds of commercial spaces, loads of parking, tons of green space, the biggest such development in Boston since the land-filling of the Back Bay 150 years ago. Almost everyone agrees that the present rules of development, with respect to affordability percentages, design, density, and traffic impact, aren’t working — at least they aren’t working for people who have lived in Boston during very different times and now find themselves walking the plank of a twilight zone, Thus the challenge, by Edwards, to imagine ourselves making a Constitution in place of a very dis-functional confederation. It’s a big message — but one that calls us to reactive the history behind us and to live as boldly — but purposefully, knowing our responsibilities as well as our powers — as did our forbears of 1787.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OVERRIDING THE ZONING LAWS : GOVERNOR BAKER’s HOUSING BILL

Governor Baker and his zoning bill coalition

There never were any zoning laws in Massachusetts. Not until 1920 did our State adopt statewide zoning (MGL c. 40, sections 25-30), and not until 1954 did Massachusetts enact a zoning enabling law (MGL c. 40A). Before 1954 you could build pretty much anything anywhere — which is why in our oldest towns and cities one finds houses built in back of other houses, or built on tiny lots. After 1954 all that changed. Zoning today has become a bottleneck for builders — yet one to which, in ever more numerous cases, boards of zoning appeal are granting exceptions — “variances” is the administrative term. These exceptions pretty much amount to semi-repeal of c. 40A, except that winning exceptions costs the variance seeker tons of time and expensive legal fees. For those, however,who don’t have the time, or who don’t want to hire expensive zoning lawyers, and risk community hearings and a denial by the Board of Appeal, c. 40A defends itself with a bristling wall of weapons, chiefest of which is a requirement that two-thirds of a municipal council, or town meeting, must vote for a zoning override. Few such municipal legislatures get to two-thirds.

Into this mix of expensive lawyering, boards of appeal, and local zoning overrides, comes legislation filed last month by Governor Baker. Its mostly the same bill that he filed last year and which did not make it through to enac , newly tweaked but with the same basic reforms outlined in the administration’s announcement :
https://www.mass.gov/news/baker-polito-administration-files-new-housing-legislation-to-increase-housing-production-in

Baker’s bill would allow a city council or town meeting to adopt, by simple majority, rather than a two-thirds, zoning changes such as these examples set forth in the baker announcement :

  • Building mixed-use, multi-family, and starter homes, and adopting 40R “Smart Growth” zoning in town centers and near transit.
  • Allowing the development of accessory dwelling units, or “in-law” apartments.
  • Approving Smart Growth or Starter Homes districts that put housing near existing activity centers.
  • Granting increased density through a special permit process.
  • Allowing for the transfer of development rights and enacting natural resource protection zoning.
  • Reducing parking requirements and dimensional requirements, such as minimum lot sizes.

Reading these, one envisions a situation not all that different from how houses were built during our state’s first building booms, 1700-1770 and 1800 to about 1830. Then, houses of all sorts of sizes, from large to less to small to tiny, were built wherever land was available. Go to any of our old cities — Newburyport, Marblehead, Salem, Gloucester — and you see it : density not much less than that in old European cities. People today clamor to buy homes in these old cities, the density and clutter no problem. So why is it a problem at all ? that’s a very good question, one that touches on some of the darker sides of our national thinking. It’s these ghosts that Baker’s bill is up against : fears in many communities — particularly from the NIMBY thinkers who often win town meeting member elections and also some city councils — that “they” will move into town in large numbers, altering the twon or city’s customs not for the better.

These ghosts are hard to battle, because the proposed zoning reforms will indeed change the look and shape of many towns and cities. The picket fence and front lawn ideal sought by generations of suburbanites, atop original settlers of our towns, commands our dreams and brightens our imagined good life. We want to live close to nature, to the pastoral image in which vistas and fields look peaceful and smell fresh. There’s nothing bad about this ideal, this dream, nor is there anything wrong with conserving open fields, woods, lakes and wild life habitats. Still, their dominance over community zoning has to change, because people work here and should be able to afford to live here — indeed, MUST be able to afford it, because if we cannot accommodate those whose work drives our general prosperity, that prosperity will suffer, to no one’s advantage. My wife and I love Sunday drives up-Country, to the open spaces and the mountains, the apple orchards and the town commons lined by picket-fence houses. We sometimes envy the lucky who live up there — until we remember that our own livelihoods are earned in the City, with its noise, density, clutter, and diversity of choices on ow to live. In Boston the zoning future is already here even without Baker’s zoning bill, because the City administration knows it has no choice but to vary c. 40A all the way to the sidelines as a practical matter.

Baker hopes that his zoning bill will spur the creation of 135,000 units of housing, statewide, by 2025. He insists that that’s whats needed, and I agree. It would not surprise me if the needed number turns out much larger than 135,000. To get there, his bill is almost certainly the path. It may also be only the beginning. Zoning is important, yet the needs of people are more important. Baker will be touring the state, holding town halls on the subject, starting now in Easthampton and coming east from place to place and finally to Salem, where a proposed zoning change failed in council by one vote.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE SUFFOLK DOWNS CHALLENGE

HYM’s Tom O’Brien balances the equities at a recent meeting concerning his company’s huge Suffolk Downs creation project

The vast Suffolk Downs development proposal will enormously change the physical and social architecture of upper East Boston and the Beachmont part of Revere. It will dramatically densen the traffic flows on Route 1-A. On this, everyone is agreed — not so much on anything else about the prospect.

Into this discussion, District 1 Councillor Lydia Edwards has deposited her own views on Suffolk Downs’s consequences. I quote her facebook argument in full :

Although the developers’ plans call for 1,000 of the units to be affordable, in accordance with the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, that policy allows for incomes as high as $74,500 a year, far above the average individual income of $38,000 in East Boston. Edwards also points to HYM Investments’ estimates of 1.5 people per unit in their development, lower than even the Seaport Districts 1.7 people per unit and far below the current 2.6 per unit in East Boston.

We have babies,” Edwards said. “We have families. We are an immigrant community.”

Edwards, who has been a critic of the city’s supply-side economics theory that developers will build Boston’s way out of the housing affordability crisis, said the Suffolk Downs site could accelerate the displacement of middle- and low-income families already happening in East Boston or, if done right, expand opportunity.

“It is the single largest opportunity to grow the middle class in Boston,” she said, noting the project is expected to bring thousands of construction jobs to Boston over the next 20 years. “It will either be the greatest opportunity or the greatest loss.”

Edwards said she would like to see firm commitments from the development team to hire local workers in the construction and pay the prevailing wage.’

This is our generation’s airport. We need to organize and make sure that we fight for what’s best for our community and our city. Please consider attending one of my upcoming workshops on the proposed plan (information can be found on my events page to the left) and if you haven’t already please submit your comment to the BPDA on the proposal.

No one has better narrated than Edwards the economic contradictions of the Suffolk Downs plan. So : can the Suffolk developer offer housing at a p[rice that current East Boston (and Revere) residents can afford, while at the same time paying union wages to those constructing it ? The developer’s chief, Tom O’Brien, says No, that the land cost alone makes such an outcome impossible. He said so at a recent public comment session at the Downs, and he said it again to me privately when I conversed with him after the meeting.

As for what I think about the Suffolk challenge:

First, the Suffolk Downs proposal is not located in East Boston proper,. One third of it lies in Revere, the other two thirds in Boston but commencing just beyond East Boston’s northernmost residential street, Waldemar Avenue. It is an extension of East Boston — not a replacement, as are most East Boston developments on tap. Suffolk’s major impact on the heart of East Boston will be pricing influence : the buy prices for its for-sale units, and the rent costs for apartments, will firm up a market price from Day Square north. (Less so from Day Square to the Harbor, because the density of housing there is thicker, and living quarters are more in demand from many types of customers.) This will happen regardless of how Edwards’s suggestions play out, because Suffolk is building 10,000 units for 15,000 people.

Edwards asks that the Suffolk prices reflect, in advance, the income situations, and housing needs, of current residents. Markets don’t work that way. If the addition of 10,000 housing units to the East Boston-Revere housing market were priced to attract tenants and buyers who currently live in East Boston, and all were taken up by current residents — a hypothetical, to be sure — who would then come in to take their place ? And at what prices ? Almost certainly, if 10,000 current Eastie residents were to move into Suffolk Downs — to continue the hypothetical — the result would surely be a major rise in rents for units suddenly vacant, or buy prices for houses now for sale : because the overwhelming majority of in-comers to East Boston will be well-heeled earners clamoring to move into the City, as is the case now and why the City is desperate to build new housing galore. There simply isn’t the huge influx of immigrants awaiting, with thin budgets, the like of which made East Boston what it has been since the 1850s.

Fortunately for the future of East Boston, very few current residents will likely decamp to the new Suffolk Downs.

Huge numbers of immigrants were able to settle in East Boston during the past 150 years — including my grandparents in 1896 — because of very cheap housing — bare bones row houses and tenements with zero amenities — built by workers paid $ 1.00 a day. But builder workers today earn $ 20.00 an hour and more (and they should), and health codes prevent the overcrowding that was OK in 1896, including basement hovels with no windows, overcrowded occupancy, units with no central heat and the flimsiest electricity, shared bathrooms — and landlords who didn’t give much of a damn, in an era with few laws and regulations forcing them to. (One major Boston landlord was famous for keeping his rents far below market in exchange for which he never repaired anything.) None of that can exist today. If immigrants do come into East Boston, and aren’t simply homeless once here, they get apartments with modern kitchens and baths, storm windows, circuit breaker electricity, and landlords who must comply with significant MGL c. 183=-186 laws and the many Attorney General regulations issued thereunder (and under c. 93A, the consumer protection law). Workmen earning $ 15.00 an hour and sometimes much more do the repairs. The units are insured. That costs money — at least $ 5,000 a year. The Board of Health oversees sanitary conditions set forth in laws and regulations both State and City. All of this costs money that wasn’t needed by the people who housed the immigrants of 1896 — or of 1946, for that matter.

Edwards’s focus on East Boston’s median income at $ 38,000 also doesn’t reflect the actual living situation — which is that, in many, many households in the neighborhood, two, three, even four and five $ 38,000 workers live in one unit. Why ? Clearly it’s to pay the $ 2,000-plus rent AND save up enough down payment to buy a family house — in the picket fence suburbs, mostly, where one can park in a driveway and send the kids to schools that actually work. This is what my grandparents’ six kids did, and they were hardly an exception. This is what most East Boston people have been doing all along and even right now. For immigrant families, East Boston has always been a beachhead from which they can spread out to the entire countryside and live with trees, a lawn, fresh air and quiet at night. Because this was so, and overwhelmingly the case, Boston real estate had, until recently, always been in a bear market and vastly under-priced.

Yet in spite of the $ 38,000 point, Edwards thinks it politically smart to advocate enabling current immigrant residents to move into Suffolk Downs rather than buy a house in the suburbs, as their predecessors have long done ? Is she onto something ? She might be. Many East Boston people want to stay in the neighborhood; in communities teeming with diversity; amid noise and scant parking, with cost-free public transit and green-space readily nearby, with schools that work — somehow — and with all the amenities one expects in a big metropolitan city. Today, people talk of “community” when they extol East Boston as an attractive place with all the fixings. (It is that. I know, because I am trying desperately to move back in, as soon as I can afford it.) Yet prices in the city today are high and going higher, in keeping with the much higher than median earnings of those who are moving in.

I sympathize with those who continue to live in East Boston, who have always lived in it and now see their once ignored neighborhood become a destination. I understand those who do not want to either leave or pay $ 2,500 in rent. I can grasp the decisions of those who do not want to sell their house at a now lottery winner price because they want to continue to live near their neighbors and friends. However, why does the Suffolk Downs project promise the level of revolution Edwards hypothesizes ? Suffolk Downs is not on the waterfront — far from it. There’s no water views, no funky corner restaurants, no three-generation families. Those who might move from East Boston to Suffolk aren’t likely to be immigrants seeking a picket fence house nor a long-time resident looking for a change. They’re most likely to be either newcomers who can’t afford the waterfront but want to be as near as feasible, or older residents looking to downsize — units as planned now will be noticeably small.

Make the Suffolk units small enough, and even $ 38,000 a year people can buy them. Micro-housing is already here. For not too outrageous a price you can own a 350 square foot broom closet with bath and kitchenette. Suffolk could possibly even pay union scale to those who build 350 square foot squeeze tubes. Problem is that Suffolk isn’t planning units anywhere near that small — and in any case, Edwards says, about East Boston, “we have families.” Families aren’t going to seek out 350 square foot units. Families are going to need 850 square feet, probably closer to 1,150. These cannot be built by union-scale workers and then offered at a price affordable by $ 57,000 a year earners, much less $ 38,000.00. There will need to be two such workers per applicant family — at least.

To sum up : the problem is NOT one of housing or of construction worker pay. It’s one of income generally. The Boston housing market is in rampant bull mode because demand is surging, and most among very high earners. If Boston is to accord the majority of residents a pathway to the residential future,. we will need to boost the median income, radically. A City minimum wage of $ 21/hour isn’t too high for affording life in the new Boston. I’ve heard no one propose it. At $ 21/hour a forty-hour-a-week worker earns about $ 42,000 annually. (At $ 25/hour, that worker earns about $ 49,600.) A two-worker $ 21/hour family earns about $ 84,000 yearly — enough to afford most housing in the City, even if built by union-scale construction guys. The problem then will be to not lose one’s jobs, but with that (quite crucial) proviso, raising the minimum wage is an easier solution to affordability than devices for fighting or evading market forces. It’s the answer to Edwards’s challenge to Suffolk’s developer.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE IS CRUCIAL TO LIBERTY

The Constitution’s declaration of State power, State freedom. We must understand it and also why it matters a lot.

The Constitution makes it clear that the nation it governs is to be a federal system, uniting fully sovereign states for purposes common to all, and nothing but those which must be common to all, and toward the end of providing for the General Welfare of every state that has agreed to it.

Today we tend to take the Presidency as a popularly elected, plebiscital office, that the president is some sort of tribune of the people, as was the office of tribune in the Roman constitution — literally, the voice of the tribes into which the citizenry of Rome were divided. This is a mistake. The executive office described in Article 2 is almost entirely magisterial, tasked with “(taking) Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Actual power is given to Congress, in Article 1, wherein said powers are listed one by one, along with implied powers.

For whose benefit is the President tasked with executing Congress’s laws ?

The question is rarely asked. I can’t recall it being raised in the several courses on American history that I took in college and high school. I can’t recall ever reading an answer, so let me provide one: the President sees to carrying out Congress’s laws for the benefit of the people AND of the States. Why so ? Simple. The President is elected State by State, and each State’s decision is given by the voters registered therein. These are the operative sentences :

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

When we tally up the votes for President not by State but as a total, we misread what happens on election night. It may be of note that an aggregate of all voters gives the majority to A rather than B, but the aggregate has no Constitutional significance. It’s beside the point.

This we know; almost all of us fail to understand the reasoning. The actual procedure by which the States elect Article 2’s office holder has nothing to do with aggregation. By empowering the States, each to vote separately, the Constitution encourages local authority to assert ITSELF: freeing each State to pursue its own political objectives — consistent with the Constitution’s prohibitions — because the framers saw power most effective and useful when exercised more locally than not. If that means that the “United States” then becomes 50 sovereign jurisdictions pursuing each its own policies and political shape, is that not what was intended ? The framers did NOT desire uniformity in anything other than the common-market purposes for which the Constitution’s signatories came forward in agreement. But for the exceptions — Equal Protection of the Laws, slavery abolished, citizenship for all who are born within the Federal jurisdiction, etc. — the States are authorized to seek each its own judgement how best to proceed on policy grounds. This is why the election of the national officer entrusted with effecting Congress’s laws receives sanction from the States. Given our current passion for community solutions and community politics, is the State-enabling electoral college more germane than we have come to think of it ?

But for the electoral college, the office of President would be a purely populist electee, unbound by any obligations to regional power centers, an overriding voice of the people — and unchallengable as such because whereas the entire nation knows the President’s name and gait, the entire nation of people knows very little about the Congress. Who can memorize the names of all 535 members of Congress ? Not many. Yet everyone can know the President. By such paths a President becomes the locus of popular aspiration. The Constitution wants nothing of the kind. It wants a power arrangement central only on those matters in which common ground should establish, but locally rules in every other way. That way the office of President is effectively hemmed in, able to act only within its scope, because the States can refuse re-election of even instruct their Congress people to bring a bill of impeachment.

The Constitution made a wise choice. We should learn to act locally, within our State, and add our power of deciding to that of our fellow State citizens and thereby assure that we remain free even as we agree to co-operate nationally on nationwide matters — and ONLY on national matters. May 50 States find 50 separate ways of putting freedom and opportunity into practice. Diversity of views, a multiplicity of choices taken — all gain their political legitimacy from the power given to States by the electoral college manner of choosing.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

IS BOSTON’s $ 1.273 billion 2020 SCHOOL BUDGET WORTH IT ?

John McDonough was the most effective, and one of the best liked, Boston school superintendents of my lifetime. The next super should be someone as much like him as feasible.

Every year now, Boston’s Schools system budget grows by a larger percentage than any other City account. For the coming year, the increase breaks all records : up from $ 1.19 billion to $% 1.273 billion. That’s an increase of $ 83 million dollars : 7.5 percent. In previous years, the increase amounted to three percent, or less than that. So why the huge bump ? Before I take a “deep dive,” as the current slang has it, into the numbers. I have to note that there’s actually a different Boston school budget, one that represents only direct allocation of City money. That budget hasn’t increased very much, only $ 27 million, or 2.6 percent — well within the usual — from $ 1.112 billion to $ 1.139 billion. I’ll take a closer look at both budgets, but before I do that, however, let me insert this quote about education from my friend Ed Lyons, who podcasts often about public spending matters :
Enrollment keeps going down. Spending must keep going up, despite education being information in the middle of an information revolution that makes everything else cheaper. Time for real change in education.

Unfortunately, we who advocate major education reform lost that fight in 2016, when the state’s education bureaucracies, commandeering every elected school committee in our 351 municipalities, beat back an attempt to open up the number of “charter” schools. Encouraging more “charter” schools might have invited a host of innovative school reforms, including online learning, home tutoring, small group experiments, and technology academies. None of that happened, and thus for the foreseeable future we’re left with taxpayer dollars funding an inflexible, sometimes cumbersome — and always too expensive — learning apparatus. One should look at Boston’s $ 1.273 billion schools proposal in this no-reform context. School accounts are given little choice but to continue feeding the beast.

As for the FY 2020 school budget, here’s a link to the proposal, itemized by school. It’s very difficult using this account method to focus on staff salaries at all, much less increase in staffing budgets : https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib/MA01906464/Centricity/domain/184/budgetvisualization/index.html#/SchoolAllocationActivities/SchoolBySchool

Next comes the school budget using only direct City alloocations. It itemizes in the normal manner, by classification, not by school, and is easier to examine : https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib/MA01906464/Centricity/Domain/184/190307FY20%20budget%20hearingcentral.pdf

Using the direct allocation budget, you’ll notice that the three salary and benefit accounts total $ 144 million, only $ 2 million higher than last year. The budget note says this results from “cost control efforts.” We’re not told what these are, however the schools budget does not list the three school facilities that the City closed this year. Perhaps custodial employees assigned to those facilities were laid off or took retirement ? The only account with an increase higher than most is the “Student Services,” which jumped from $ 54 million to $ 60 million. Why ? We are told this : Replacing federal funding for PEG grant (pre-K at community based partners); also includes out of district special ed and vocational placements and adult ed It is unfortunate to see Federal funding lessen, yet certainly no surprise given the proclivities of Mr. Trump. This hit we’ll just have to take. As for other allocations, the transportation account has risen by about 4.5 percent and now totals $ 96 million. That is a lot of money to send kids all over the city pursuant to a Federal Court desegregation order adopted 45 years ago. Nobody wants segregation to return, yet today’s Boston schools operate in an environment enormously unlike that of 1974. The City is much more residentially integrated, and many parents of color today do not prefer transportation over neighborhood seat assigning. Is it time to revisit the Federal Court order ? Maybe.

Next is the FY 2020 budget itemized by account, which you find not on the main web-page but in its “Budget Development” links. This is the link you need to look at if you want to understand the present deployment of schools money : https://drive.google.com/file/d/14sECY0h19xF9DFesrj5j_7YH1ILkYXVo/view

You find, in its “Salary” section, that three sub-accounts have risen five percent or more : ELT — English language Teaching, aides, and secretarial. Within the “Aides”: category, I note these exceptional increases: Security, from $ 1,012,178 to $ 1,147,462; Support specialist, from $ 222,908 to $ 373,338; ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) specialist, from $ 4,412,702 to $ 5,269,499; sign language interpreter, from $ 379,342 to $ 496,716. Evidently 2020’s students reflect, perhaps, an increasing number who aren’t prepared well at home, or experience behavior problems, or have sensory deprivation. I do not know why the last should be true, but maybe it is. In any case, my question would be, is the standard Boston school regulation the right venue for behavior difficulty students, or those who are deaf, or those who need support ? We aren’t soon going to find out, I’m afraid. Meanwhile the cost of meeting these kids’ serious needs goes up.

Perhaps the most disturbing numbers are these : the total salary for administrators and aides has risen 3.5 percent, but the total of teachers’ salaries gained only one percent. For 2020, total salaries to administrators and aides equals $ 144.6 million; total teacher salaries amounts to $ 435.2 million. The balance between actual educators and system managers continues favoring the regulators. Given the bright new leadership elected by the Boston Teachers Union, one hopes that this imbalance will reverse. Either the City’s public schools are directed by educators, or they aren’t. I am sure that teachers value having aides in or near the classroom; yet the only reason why the system keeps adding administrators is that more and more governmental regulations are required of school systems forced to compromise locally individual situations to the rules of common purpose. I would prefer regulatory flexibility, devised by the classroom itself and costing much, much less to operate. I think teachers would agree.

The Boston system serves 55,000 students only, yet it maintains facilities for far more students, who do not attend because they are enrolled elsewhere. This is waste. It should stop — and, to his credit, Mayor Walsh is moving to close down several under-utilized school facilities; he is also consolidating most of the rest. That’s a good start toward budget sense.

It’s not enough, however. Boston’s schools should be able to operate from the classroom upward, for most things — the exam schools entrance exam excepted; there may be other exceptions — rather than from the central office down. John McDonough was a very successful Superintendent because he understood this possibility and was working toward it.

Which brings me to my last topic here : choosing anew Superintendent. Tommy Chang was a poor choice from the beginning. You cannot just import an education bureaucrat from anywhere, to satisfy somebody’s “nationwide search” whimsy, and expect him or her to grasp the culture of our very peculiar system with its litigated history and administrative anomalies. Yet Chang also failed to require the most basic administrative diligence : witness the entirely inexcusable financial failures on his watch (and, in all fairness, from before). How many public school systems do YOU know that have been fined by the IRS for failure to file proper paperwork, or which have taken money from one account to pay shortfalls in another ? The ext superintendent must — MUST — be someone with a long record of accomplishment WITHIN OUR OWN SYSTEM; someone, yes, like John McDonough. That superintendent, once installed in office, must commit to reinventing the entire administrative handbook as well as discarding as much as feasible of the $ 96 million transportation budget. Schools should be teacher and student, as much as possible, not teacher, bus, and student.

—- Mike Freedeberg / Here and Sphere

REVENUE FOR THE T : RIDERS MUST SHARE THE BURDEN

Riders need the T ? The T needs their fares.

A petition is circulating expressing opposition to the MBTA’s proposed 6.7 percent fare hike — big deal. When has a proposed fare hike not been opposed by electeds ? The same electeds who see no difficulty in raising their salaries, and that of their staffs, which taxpayers pay for, somehow find fare hikes, which users pay for, in support of the MBTA budget more than troublesome. But why are taxpayers fair game and users not ? When the bankrupt rail lines of the late 1920s were taken over by the state, so that users could continue to have transportation, the takeover was never considered a free gift. If fares thereafter no longer funded the entirety of transit lines’ budgets, they were yet a significant contributor to transit revenue. That was the bargain : the taxpayers would assume the costs that users by themselves could not. Each interest would share. Otherwise there would have been no more transit.

The sharing of T costs would also be proportional. Users, taxpayers, and serviced municipalities each bore an agreed-upon share of the T budget. Thus as the costs of operating transit rise, so must the dollar contribution made by each interest. That was the agreement by which the current system was enabled.

I see no reason why this agreement should change and many reasons why it should not change. First, however, I include the long-ish column that I wrote about present MBTA financing about three months ago : https://hereandsphere.com/2018/12/29/massachusettss-transportation-future-part-3-more-revenue/?preview=true

All of the arguments adduced in that column by T mangers and elected officials continue in force now. They’re the basis of every dispute about T financing forward. The T confronts four major obligations, all to be met in the same five to fifteen year time frame : ( 1 ) bringing the current lineage to “state of good repair,” an $ 8.6 billion account; ( 2 ) expanding transit service on the Green Line and restoring to operation the Blue Line to Red Line connector between the Blues’ Bowdoin Station and the Red’s Charles Street stop; ( 3 ) converting the T’s bus fleet from diesel to electric as well as bringing mini-buses on line and more bus lines; and ( 4 ) funding the T employees’ pension obligations, presently a $ 97 million number. This last obligation is ramping up and crowding out T operations at the margins. Said Paul Brandley, the T’s CFO, “23 percent of the agency’s payroll costs now go toward pensions,’ a percentage that state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said was too high. “This is a risk to the T budget, but more importantly it’s a risk to our workforce,” she said. Brandley also said pension spending was budgeted at $97 million for fiscal 2019, but that number had to be increased to $103 million after the pension board lowered its estimate of investment returns from 7.75 percent to 7.5 percent. Brandley also ran some projections for 2022 which indicated costs would rise to $112 million if investment returns hold steady but could go as high as $137 million if returns tank.

The T’s employees are certainly entitled to all the benefits of contracts that they and T management bargain for and agree to. But are pension increases somehow exempt from the basic operating agreement that was set up in the 1930s and continues today ? And if users complain about T service, which remains resistant to full rider satisfaction, are users any less on the hook for the personnel costs of those services ? Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that the T agrees to forego a fare increase and this throw the entire operating cost onto the taxpayers. Might they, too, not rebel ? Some advocates want the state to do just that : increase the gas tax and tolls on the Turnpike and bridges/tunnels. By what argument do they convince taxpayers who don’t use the T — including those who live and work outside the Boston metro — that they should bear the entire burden of increase of a system they do not use ?

I use the T. I would rather not pay more to use it. Yet even with a 6.7 percent hike, from a $ 4.20 round trip to a $ 4.48 round trip, the T is still a huge bargain compared to the cost of gasoline and of parking if I choose to use my car. It’s cheaper also than an Uber ride — by a lot. As for the argument that a 28 cent increase per daily ride, amounting to maybe $ 7.00 a month, will put the T out of reach of low income riders, I say : really ? And if, perchance, there are some riders who cannot afford an additional $ 7.00 a month, isn’t it about time that our electeds face the fundamental reform that is needed, namely enacting a $ 21/hour, gradual increase minimum wage ? At some point we have to consider this. The T’s proposed $ 7.00 a month hike is nothing compared to the $ 2,200 a month (and up) that most of the City’s two-bedroom apartments rent for. We can’t, or shouldn’t, tax or penalize landlords, who have their own costs to meet, but we can, and should, require employers operating in the city to pay their workers more, for the distinct advantage of operating within the City and not outside it. After all, the need to locate a business Downtown, or close by it, is great these days and growing greater. More and more businesses want to be in the center. Why should they not pay for it ? Not to mention that, the higher their employees’ paychecks, the better educated and more skilled employees they’ll have, and the more ready they’ll be to not jump from one company to another, thereby imposing large retraining and job-searching costs that really seem to me like complete waste of money and work time.

Perhaps businesses don’t like the $ 21/hour proposal ? (Of course they don’t.) Jeff Lyons, who managed Daniel Fishman’s Libertarian party campaign last year for State Auditor, suggests that the naming rights for T stations and bus stops be put out to bid, as is done these days with segments of state and Interstate Highways. It’s one-shot deal, but better that than nothing. The T currently derives some millions of dollars from advertising on buses and transit cars. Why not more ? Maybe the T might make naming rights a renewable, two-year matter. I can’t see huge revenue arising from it, but certainly several millions of dollars isn’t out of reach.

That said, the T’s current $ 2.10 transit fare and $ 5.00 commuter Rail price are incredible bargains. No competing “mobility service” comes close on price. It’s an enormous subsidy to users. We should count ourselves damn lucky that the T’s price isn’t double what it it now is.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere