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City College of Boston

 

The solution to UMass Boston’s woes could start with a city-run college

 

There was an interesting conversation recently between two people who I often criticize for being… um… insufficiently public spirited. The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung asked Boston mayor Marty Walsh a great question: “What if the city took over the University of Massachusetts Boston?” Walsh, to his credit, replied: “Am I looking to take on a potentially new school? No. … Do I think Boston potentially could be positioned well enough to handle it? Absolutely.”

 

UMass Boston has been struggling to make ends meet for many years. According to the Dorchester Reporter, union activists at the school say that student tuition and fees, state appropriations, and grants, are actually sufficient to cover its operating costs. But UMB labors under more than $30 million in structural deficit from the cost of belatedly rebuilding a campus that was thrown together with substandard materials by corrupt contractors on top of a landfill back in the 1970s. And a lot of other debt besides.

 

Successive legislatures and governors have been unwilling to fork over the money to cover the long-needed repairs—sticking a school with an “urban mission” to serve working-class Boston students with a mountain of debt that it can’t clear on its own. Even after controversial longtime chancellor J. Keith Motley was ousted last year and replaced with interim chancellor and state government hatchet man Barry Mills. Who presided over the layoff of dozens of critical faculty and staff in the interest of “balancing the school budget” even though the UMB community is not to blame for its plight.

 

As the state prepares to bring in a new “permanent” chancellor, it is not prepared to do the right thing. So, it’s definitely worth pushing Walsh to at least produce a serious study on whether a city that struggles to properly fund K-12 education could really do a better job running a medium-sized research university that the Commonwealth can.

 

It remains to be seen if UMass Boston is too heavy a fiscal burden for the city of Boston to take on. But there is a way that Mayor Walsh could dip his toe into the murky waters of administering a four-year public college without taking over UMB in its entirety. That would be to consider a plan for a separate city college that I had a hand in developing between 2005 and 2007 while I was a student, and then a graduate teaching assistant, at UMB’s College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). It was originally conceived as a possible response to the university’s destruction of that innovative and popular division.

 

In brief, CPCS was the most diverse college within the most diverse university in the entire Northeast. Not only did it focus on recruiting working-class Boston students from nontraditional backgrounds—like single mothers—it also put a lot of effort into recruiting older working students like me who had never finished college. It was founded in 1972 and 1973 by professors and politicians who believed so strongly in UMB’s urban mission that they developed a college purpose-built to take students from poor city neighborhoods with few opportunities and turn them into stellar university graduates. Which it did with aplomb for over 30 years.

 

The following section of the CPCS Mission Statement shows how seriously the school took its mandate:

 

The college works toward overcoming the attitudes, beliefs, and structures in our society which prevent access to the resources that exist and discourage full participation in economic, civic, cultural and political life. As an alternative educational institution, CPCS endeavors to function as an inclusive, democratic, and participatory learning community which promotes diversity, equality, and social justice.

 

Unfortunately, the administration of a decade ago—led by Motley—decided that the few bucks more it cost per year to educate a CPCS student compared to a “regular” UMB student was too much to spend. And it had deep ideological differences with CPCS pedagogy. Especially the rejection of letter grades as a metric for success. So it killed the college in all but name by 2008. Despite strong protests by its students, staff, and faculty.

 

Given the current crisis at UMass Boston, Mayor Walsh could revive the plan for a new City College of Boston that myself and other campus activists first suggested… as a successor to CPCS. The goal would be to provide a place for a few hundred working-class native Bostonians at a time. Students who can handle a four-year degree program academically, but are being driven out of UMB by its ever-rising sticker price—and its shift to attempting to compete with local private universities for white suburban middle-class students and full-freight paying foreign students by building dorms. Which is being done, in part, to allow its latest cowardly administration to get rid of its debt load without direct state aid.

 

The City College could hold classes in existing municipal facilities and start with a few dozen faculty and staff. It would be run by the city of Boston. And ideally, it would strive to charge students no more than the Hub’s two-year community colleges, Bunker Hill and Roxbury… which it should work with closely.

 

If the new college does decently well for a few years, then maybe the city could take over UMass Boston in its entirety, merge the two, and move on to strengthen its urban mission university-wide. Returning the school to its urban-focused roots… with local sources of funding that are somewhat more receptive to community needs than state funding sources… and a new sense of purpose.

 

Even such a bold move would not absolve the legislature and the governor of their responsibility to properly fund Mass public higher education as completely as the state budget will allow—rather than doing things like dumping $1.5 billion on the biotech industry—and to lobby the federal government ferociously for more funding as well. But it could at least ameliorate an increasingly dire situation for Bostonians seeking to improve their lot by obtaining a bachelor’s degree. And get the city back in the business of expanding public services rather than privatizing them.

 

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest show — co-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

 

 

Note of Appreciation

Big thanks to Bill Marx of Arts Fuse and Greg Cook of Wonderland (and sometimes DigBoston) for inviting me to participate in a great forum “For the Love of Arts Criticism II: Small Magazines and Bloggers” held on Monday at Rob Chalfen’s fabulous music and arts space, Outpost 186, in Inman Square. Props to fellow speakers Chanel Thervil of Big Red & Shiny; Pat Williams of the Word Boston; Heather Kapplow of, like, everywhere, including DigBoston; Franklin Einspruch of Delicious Line (and DigBoston); Marc Levy of Cambridge Day; Oscar Goff and Chloé DuBois of Boston Hassle; Dave Ortega of the Somerville Media Center; Jameson Johnson of Boston Art Review; Lucas Spivey of Culture Hustlers podcast; Rick Fahey of On Boston Stages; Suzanne Schultz of Canvas Fine Arts; Olivia Deng of several publications, including DigBoston; noted events producer Mary Curtin; Aliza Shapiro of Truth Serum Productions; former Boston Phoenix, Improper Bostonian, and Boston Magazine writer Jacqueline Houton; and a number of other folks. Read Greg Cook’s fine article on the proceedings for all the details at gregcookland.com/wonderland.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

TOWNIE: AIRLINES SUING, UMASS SCREWING

TOWNIE: AIRLINES SUING, UMASS SCREWING

 

Corporate attack on workers rights and a corporate-style attack on UMB by UMA

 

If there’s one thing I think people should do every day, it’s read the business press. Because that’s where you see how the world runs. A world that naturally includes Massachusetts.

 

Airlines sue Mass over sick time law

Case in point, Airlines for America—a coalition that includes JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, American Airlines, and several other carriers, according to the Boston Globe business section—sued Mass Attorney General Maura Healey last week over a 2015 law that guarantees sick leave to many Bay State workers. Including airline employees. “Now surely,” you’re all doubtless thinking, “an industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for decades of massive government subsidies couldn’t possibly consider doing anything that might hurt its workers by attacking a government program that helps them.” But no, the airlines are totally doing that. It’s what big corporations always do to their workers. Along with endless union busting.

 

According to the Mass.gov Earned Sick Time page, the law states that most workers “in Massachusetts have the right to earn and use up to 40 hours of job-protected sick time per year to take care of themselves and certain family members. Workers must earn at least one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.” It further states that employers “with 11 or more employees must provide paid sick time. Employers with fewer than 11 employees must provide earned sick time, but it does not need to be paid.” Employers can “ask for a doctor’s note or other documentation only in limited circumstances.”

 

The airlines are basically trying to argue—in the fashion of sadly deceased comic Phil Hartman in the role of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer—that the Mass sick time law “frightens and confuses” them. And that with all the billions of dollars they either gouge out of travelers or simply have the federal government hand them whenever they cry poverty, they can’t possibly figure out how to sync up all their various state, national, and international sick time laws they’ve already handled for decades with the Commonwealth’s more decent law. Despite, you know, computers.

 

Bottom line, they want an exemption from the law to make slightly bigger profits and escape regulation, and they’re suing Healey to get their way. Claiming it’s unconstitutional and shouldn’t apply to airlines. The same thing they did in Washington State in February, according to the Seattle Times.

 

The AG should have fun with this one. But readers can give her a hand by calling up the airlines and their front group and telling them to stop attacking the Commonwealth’s sick leave program.

 

UMass Boston suffers more cuts while UMass Amherst buys Mount Ida College

A couple of related developments in the UMass system over the last several days. First, UMass Amherst is buying the private Mount Ida College in Newton for $37 million, according to WBUR. It plans to use the campus as a base for Boston-area internships and co-ops for its students. The school will also assume Mount Ida’s debt of up to $70 million.

 

The situation is widely viewed as an unfortunate attack on UMass Boston turf by the more “elite,” better-funded, and melanin-challenged UMass Amherst. With UMB faculty, staff, and students; higher ed experts; and the editorial boards of publications from the Boston Globe to the Lowell Sun asking why it’s necessary for UMA to spend big money on a separate suburban campus to connect its students to Boston. Especially given that there’s already the perfectly good but woefully underfunded UMass Boston campus in the city itself. Which could certainly use an injection of tens of millions of dollars from any source of late.

 

Speaking of which, second, UMass Boston is slashing the budget of 17 of its research centers by $1.5 million, including the famed veteran-focused William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, as part of its attempt to get out from under the $30 million in mostly new construction-related deficit it’s been saddled with by a state government that insists on running its colleges like individual businesses. Rather than branches of a single statewide public service.

 

It’s worth mentioning, as I do on a regular basis, that we need to move the state and nation to the kind of fully public higher education system that many other countries have. Which spends sufficient tax money to guarantee every US resident a K-20 education. And tells private schools like Harvard that they can only remain private if they stop taking public money.

 

That’s the only way we’re going to stop this kind of spectacle. Where two parts of the same state public university system—one, Amherst, that primarily serves middle-class white suburban students, and one, Boston, that primarily serves working-class urban students of color—work at cross-purposes to one another. Amherst with a larger budget, and Boston with a smaller one. Separate and unequal.

 

For the moment, readers can help out by joining me in signing the petition to save the William Joiner Institute at change.org. And those so inclined can protest the Mount Ida College sale to UMass Amherst at the Board of Higher Education meeting on April 24. But I think critical calls and emails to UMass President Marty Meehan will likely be most effective. You can find his contact page on the massachusetts.edu website.

 

Check out TOWNIE EXTRA: YASER MURTAJA, PRESENTE! here.

 

Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

TOWNIE: MASS REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITIES FACE MAJOR BUDGET CRISIS

RTA bus

 

Gov. Baker’s proposed cuts throw gasoline on raging policy fire

 

February 21, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

A quarter-century ago, I lived in Lawrence for a few months. Because it was the closest place to Boston that I could find a cheap apartment on short notice. Unfortunately, I had a low-paying job in the city and couldn’t afford a car. So I took the commuter rail over an hour each way back and forth whenever I had a shift. Then at the end of the day, I was faced with getting to my apartment a couple of miles away from the station. Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) bus service ran near my place. But even in the early 1990s with a state budget that looks more humane in retrospect, it was infrequent at best. And my bus dropped me off a few blocks away from where I lived when it was running.

 

Now that was during rush hour on a weekday. If I got home later than early evening—especially on weekends—MVRTA buses had already stopped running. I moved there in December. And until I moved back to Boston the following March, through what proved to be a very cold winter, I would often get off my train, watch all but a handful of people get into waiting cars and leave, and then begin the long, frozen slog home. Across the Merrimack River, on sidewalks that were mostly unshoveled and roads that were indifferently plowed.


Standing in the middle of Duck Bridge one Sunday night in mid-February during a fierce snowstorm, I experienced a moment of nearly perfect alienation. The scene was completely desolate. No vehicles were on the road. It was pitch black except for the occasional street light with the darker black of largely abandoned textile mills looming in the middle distance. Snow was piling up all around me. The brutal wind off the water cut through my coat. My sneakers were entirely insufficient to the task of keeping me consistently upright—let alone keeping my feet warm and dry. And I remember thinking that if I had slipped and fallen into the river, no one would have the slightest idea of where I’d gone until spring. Because in the era before ubiquitous cell phones or texters, I could not have typed “aaaaaaah” to my girlfriend as I fell. So who would be the wiser?


Fast-forward to this week, and that memory immediately sprang to mind when I read the transportation section of Gov. Charlie Baker’s annual state budget proposal. And discovered that he’s planning to level-fund the 15 regional transit authorities (RTAs) for $80.4 million, according to the Mass Budget and Policy Center, while most Bostonians are focusing on the ongoing fight to keep the MBTA solvent. Authorities like the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority… which is already cutting back bus, van, and Boston commuter service and eliminating that Sunday service I kept missing in the early ’90s. Since level-funding means a budget cut, given annual cost increases. And it’s not looking like the legislature is likely to swoop in to save the RTAs later in our now-normalized austerity budget process.


After all, if the legions of working- and middle-class Bostonians that rely on public transit can’t yet force elected state officials to properly fund the MBTA, the smaller numbers of riders in outlying cities like Brockton, Fitchburg, Lowell, and Lawrence are in even worse straits. Especially when many of them are immigrants who can’t vote.


Yet the need for public transit gets more dire the farther you get from Boston. If you don’t have a car in places like Athol, Greenfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield, literally your only inexpensive transit option is bus service run by your regional transit authority. Which I’ve already made quite clear is of limited usefulness at the best of times. RTAs don’t go everywhere riders need to go and don’t run many of the times riders need to use them. As I experienced during my brief, unpleasant Lawrence sojourn.


People without cars in the many parts of the state that aren’t reached by the MBTA’s main bus and subway lines are already at a major disadvantage in terms of their ability to access jobs, laundry, shopping, education, social services, daycare, and healthcare in the best of times. If RTA service continues to be whittled away year by year, eventually there will be no public transportation left in many locales. And taking an Uber or Lyft won’t be an option for people that can’t even afford a hike in bus fare. Even while those private transportation services are angling to replace public transit for those that can pay their largely unregulated fares.

 

That is no minor problem—lest readers think that only small numbers of people lack cars in Mass cities outside of the Boston metro area. It’s a major crisis. For example, according to a Governing magazine article looking at car ownership in US cities with a population over 100,000, 19.3 percent of Worcester households and 22.2 percent of Springfield households did not have a car in 2016. Meanwhile, my colleague Bill Shaner at Worcester Magazine just reported that “[t]he Worcester Regional Transit Authority Advisory Board voted to send proposed service cuts to a public hearing after decrying the possible changes as a ‘death spiral’ for the bus system.


He continued, “WRTA officials unveiled several possible measures to bridge a $1.2 million budget gap, due mostly to budget cuts to the RTA system at the state level. The possible measures include routes cut wholesale, cut weekend service, and diminished routes, which would increase wait times between buses.”

 

Both WRTA Board Chairman William Lehtola and WRTA Administrator Jonathan Church agreed that the system would “cease to exist in a few years” if the funding crisis continues unabated.

 

Meanwhile, the Republican reported that Springfield RTA “the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority has proposed a 25 percent across-the-board increase in fares and pass prices and a slate of service cutbacks, all to take force July 1.”

 

So make no mistake, this is a significant escalation in the war on Mass working families by Baker and any legislators that back similar cuts to public transit around the state. Cuts that RTAs have already been struggling with for years. As with the battle to save the MBTA and other public services, the RTAs can only be defended with a concerted fight from their riders. Whose goal must be to increase taxes on corporations and the rich in the Commonwealth, and to change state and local budget priorities to better serve the needs of all Mass residents.

 

Failing that, you’ll see a lot more people walking long distances in inclement weather statewide. And all too many of them won’t be able to escape their “transit desert” like I did. They will simply become more and more isolated. Until they literally disappear. The way I feared doing on a lonely bridge in the depths of a Merrimack Valley winter half a lifetime agone.

 


Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

SEA LEVEL RISE IS JUST ONE OF BOSTON’S WORRIES

Image via Environmental Defense Fund
Image via Environmental Defense Fund

As Earth approaches several catastrophic global warming “tipping points”

 

January 24, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

Before writing more columns examining Boston city government’s emerging plans to cope with the effects of global warming, I think a quick review of what area residents are likely to face in the coming decades is in order. Because it’s important to disabuse people of the idea that we’re dealing with “just” a handful of significant problems over time—a rise in air temperature, an increase of extreme weather events, and a rise in sea level—that those problems are isolated to just Boston or the United States, that they are going to continue until the end of the century and then stop, and that there are some simple things we can do to prevent those problems from becoming unmanageable.

 

The reality is far more frightening. According to Mother Jones, “In 2004, John Schellnhuber, distinguished science adviser at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, identified 12 global-warming tipping points, any one of which, if triggered, will likely initiate sudden, catastrophic changes across the planet.”  

 

There’s been much research and debate since that time about which systems can be considered tipping points and which ones need more research before we can be sure, but the Environmental Defense Fund has a page on its website with an overview of the latest science. It’s called “Everything you need to know about climate tipping points” and you should read it in full. But here’s a quick summary of the tipping points that the Earth is passing or on its way to passing. Largely due to humans continuing to burn CO2-producing oil, gas, and coal decades after it was known to be suicidal to do so.

 

1) Disappearance of Arctic Summer Sea Ice

The poles are warming faster than the rest of the planet. In the Arctic, sea ice has been melting much more quickly than it used to for much more of every year as the average global temperatures rise year after year. Scientists are now predicting ice-free Arctic summers by mid-century. The less of the year that ice covers the Arctic, the less sunlight is reflected back to space. Sunlight that is not reflected warms the Arctic Ocean, leading to other problems and more global warming overall.

 

2) Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Of particular concern to Bostonians because of our relative proximity to Greenland, the melting of its ice cap may continue for the next few hundred years until there is none left. Unlike melting sea ice that doesn’t add water to the world’s oceans, melting ice from land does. This will ultimately result in global sea level rise of up to 20 feet, and the process is underway.

 

3) Disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

This tipping point may already have been passed—with the West Antarctic ice sheet already starting to collapse. Like the Greenland ice sheet, it too is expected to take hundreds of years to finish melting, but when it does it could raise the global sea level up to 16 feet.

 

4) Collapse of Coral Reefs

With oceans already warming and becoming more acidic, the algae eaten by the coral that make up the world’s often huge and spectacular reefs is being jettisoned, resulting in coral bleaching. This process weakens the coral and hastens its death. Which is accelerating the destruction of marine spawning and feeding grounds globally with dire consequences for many nations whose economies rely on them—and for biodiversity. Scientists now predict that the remaining coral reefs will collapse before there is rise in the global temperature of 2 degrees from the old normal average. Most climate models show the world reaching that threshold before the end of this century.

 

Beyond these, there are several other expected tipping points being studied: the disruption of ocean circulation patterns from the massive influx of fresh water from melting ice (especially in the North Atlantic, which would play havoc with Boston’s climate), the release of marine methane hydrates (which would accelerate the global warming already being caused by the CO2 emissions considered the main cause of climate change), ocean anoxia (a process creating growing oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in our oceans that can no longer support most life, aka “bye bye seafood”), the dieback of the Amazon rainforest (caused by human activity like cutting down huge numbers of trees with devastating consequences for biodiversity coupled with the loss of a major CO2 sink), the dieback of the boreal forests (still being studied, but means the death of more vast forests in and around our latitude of the planet), the weakening of the marine carbon pump (the Earth’s oceans have been absorbing much of the excess carbon in the atmosphere, but through this process will become less effective at it), the greening of the Sahara (some positive effects would come from this, but many basic ocean life forms rely on nutrients from the desert sand blowing into the ocean and will be negatively affected by losing it), and the increasingly chaotic Indian summer monsoons (could result in extensive drought in one of the Earth’s most populous regions).

 

Other processes underway may also be potential tipping points, including the collapse of deep Antarctic ocean circulation, the appearance of an Arctic ozone hole (joining the existing Antarctic ozone hole in causing rising UV levels in the Arctic with various negative effects), the aridification of the US Southwest (as moisture moves to the upper Great Plains), the slowdown of the jet stream (which could leave more weather systems stuck in place for weeks at a time, including extreme systems like our recent polar vortex-induced cold wave, among other negative effects), the melting of the Himalayan glaciers (which help provide fresh water for much of South Asia’s population), a more permanent El Niño state (which could result in more drought in Southeast Asia and elsewhere), permafrost melting (which results in more CO2 and methane being released, accelerating global warming further), and tundra transition to boreal forest (with uncertain effects).

 

Adding the above to the general effects of global warming that we’re already experiencing—areas that got lots of rain getting less and areas that got little rain getting more rain storms for more of the year, hotter temperatures overall leading to an array of bad effects like tropical diseases moving north, and the “sixth extinction” of large numbers of species of animals and plants—and keeping in mind that this is happening everywhere around the planet, readers should understand that we’re not facing a localized crisis.

 

And remember, all the processes mentioned above are interlinked in complex ways that are absolutely not fully understood by our current science.

 

So Boston is not just going to “trial balloon and town hall meeting” its way out of this array of existential crises. Surviving even one of the major problems caused by global warming—like the flooding from rising sea levels I wrote about last week—is going to be very difficult… and very expensive. And who’s going to pay for it? Well, going forward, in addition to pointing out that we’ll have to devote an ever-increasing percentage of public budgets to these problems, expect me to call for the corporations that started and continue to profit from global warming—the oil, gas, and coal companies—to pay for cleaning up the mess they created. To the degree possible. Which might not be sufficient to the monumental tasks at hand.

 

Still, it will be critical for Boston to join municipalities like New York City in suing the carbon multinationals Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and others for redress. While divesting the city from all investments in those companies’ stocks. And suing, and ultimately deposing, governments like the Trump administration that are aiding and abetting these corporations’ destruction of the planet.

 

Failing that, Boston and all of human civilization is literally sunk… burned… and perhaps ultimately suffocated. Dying not with the bang of nuclear war—itself a fate we also need to organize immediately to avoid given the federal government’s return to atomic sabre rattling—but with an extended agonizing whimper.

 

It’s up to all of us to stop that from happening.

 

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

THE SEAPORT FLOOD IS JUST THE BEGINNING

THE SEAPORT FLOOD IS JUST THE BEGINNING

 

Unless Boston builds proper defenses against global warming-driven sea level rise

 

January 17, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

So, Boston’s Seaport District flooded early this month during a bad snowstorm in the midst of several days of arctic temperatures. And nobody could be less surprised than me. Because I’ve spent a lot of the last quarter century closely following developments in the science of climate change. And the “bomb cyclone” that caused the flooding, and the polar vortex that caused that, are both likely to have been caused by global warming. Yale University Climate Connections just produced a great video that features several luminary climate scientists explaining why at yaleclimateconnections.org. Definitely check it out.

 

No question, though, that it’s good to live in a region where local government at least recognizes that global warming is a scientific reality. The city of Boston is certainly ahead of most municipalities in the US in terms of laying plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to become “carbon neutral” and to deal with some of the anticipated effects of climate change. Particularly, flooding from inexorably rising sea levels and increasingly powerful and frequent storms. Which the more reactionary Boston TV newsreaders still insist on calling “wild weather.” But its plans are largely just that… plans. And they are still incomplete and, frankly, woefully inadequate to deal with the magnitude of the crisis facing us all.

 

Boston city government has initiated an array of climate change initiatives, including Greenovate Boston, a section of the Imagine Boston 2030 process, and—most germane to this discussion—Climate Ready Boston. They are all producing very nice reports grappling with some of the challenges to humanity presented by global warming in the decades to come. But the reports are written by planners and experts who are clearly pulling their punches for reasons that remain somewhat opaque. And in doing so, any good that might come out of the reports and the policy actions that will result from them is essentially undone.

 

A look at metro planning on global warming-induced flooding is a good way to illuminate the problem in question. The Climate Ready Boston program released a 340-page report in December 2016 that was meant to be a comprehensive assessment of the threats presented to the city by global warming—with plans for possible correctives. It does mention the idea of building giant dikes, storm barriers, and retractable gates (which they call a “harbor-wide flood protection system”) across Boston Harbor as the method with the most potential to save much of the city from major flooding. Which makes sense since Mayor Marty Walsh signed a 2015 agreement with Dutch officials to work together to manage rising sea levels, according to Boston Magazine. And the Dutch are recognized world experts on giant storm barriers and hydroengineering in general, lo, these last few hundred years.

 

But there’s no firm commitment for harbor-wide defenses in the report. Yet it should be obvious that they are absolutely necessary if Boston is going to continue as a living city for even a few more decades. At least Amos Hostetter of the Barr Foundation—who is a major player in Boston’s climate efforts—put up $360,000 for the UMass Boston Center for the Environment to study their feasibility last year, according to the Boston Globe.

 

More concerning than its waffling on building big dikes, the big Climate Ready Boston report chooses to focus on the possibility of sea level rise of no more than 3 feet by 2070—although it allows that a rise of 7.4 feet is possible by 2100:

 

 

The highest sea level rise considered in this report, 36 inches, is highly probable toward the end of the century if emissions remain at the current level or even if there is a moderate reduction in emissions. … If emissions remain at current levels, there is an approximately 15 percent chance that sea levels will rise at least 7.4 feet by the end of century, a scenario far more dire than those considered here.

 

 

Similar caution is on display with an October 2017 Climate Ready Boston report called “Coastal Resilience Solutions for East Boston and Charlestown”—focusing on tactics to protect two Boston neighborhoods on Boston Harbor at high risk for flooding caused by global warming. Once again, the authors’ assumption is that global warming-related sea level rise in Boston will be no more than 3 feet higher than year 2000 figures by 2070. Even though such estimates—which we have already seen are conservative by Climate Ready Boston’s own admission—also indicate that we could face 7-plus feet of sea level rise or more by 2100. And even higher rises going forward from there. Because sea level rise is slated to continue for generations to come.

 

What’s weird about such methodological conservatism is that a 2016 paper in the prestigious science journal Nature co-authored by a Bay State geoscientist says the lower figures that all the city’s climate reports are using already look to be wildly optimistic.

 

According to the Boston Globe:

 

 

“Boston is a bull’s-eye for more sea level damage,” said Rob DeConto, a climate scientist at UMass Amherst who helped develop the new Antarctica research and who co-wrote the new Boston report. “We have a lot to fear from Antarctica.” … If high levels of greenhouse gases continue to be released into the atmosphere, the seas around Boston could rise as much as 10.5 feet by 2100 and 37 feet by 2200, according to the report.

 

What’s even weirder is that the same UMass scientist, Rob DeConto, co-authored a detailed June 2016 report for Climate Ready Boston called “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Projections for Boston: The Boston Research Advisory Group Report” with 16 other climate scientists that look at an array of possible outcomes for the city—and include a discussion of the higher sea level rise figures mentioned in the Nature paper. The report concludes with an admission that current science doesn’t allow for accurate predictions of climate change in the second half of the century. All the more reason, one would think, that models predicting higher than anticipated sea level rise should not seemingly be dismissed out of hand in other Climate Ready Boston reports.

 

The Globe also reported that a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Boston can expect a sea level rise of 8.2 feet by 2100. Both 8.2 foot and 10.5 foot estimates are higher than the 7.4 foot estimate that Climate Ready Boston says is possible by 2100, and well above the 3 feet that it is actually planning for by 2070.

 

The same team that produced the larger Climate Ready Boston report authored the East Boston and Charlestown report; so they are doubtless quite well-aware of all this. Which is evident in this sentence about the (insufficient) extensibility of their proposed neighborhood-based flood defenses: “If sea levels rise by more than 36 inches, these measures could be elevated at least two feet higher by adding fill, integrating structural furniture that adds height and social capacity, or installing deployable flood walls. With this built-in adaptability, their effectiveness could be extended by an additional 20 years or more.”

 

The point here is not that the Boston city government is doing nothing about global warming-induced flooding. It’s that the city is potentially proposing to do too little, too late (given that most of the flood defenses it’s proposing will remain in the study phase for years, and many will protect specific neighborhoods but not the whole city when finally built), for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Though it’s probable that those reasons are more political and economic than scientific. Avoiding scaring-off the real estate developers and major corporations that provide much of the current city tax base, for example. The kind of thing that will make life difficult for politicians who then make life difficult for staffers and consultants working on global warming response plans.

 

Regardless, if experts like the Dutch are basically saying, Boston really needs to build the biggest possible harbor-wide flood protection system to have any hope of surviving at least a few more decades, then we can’t afford to do one of the more half-assed versions of the big cross-harbor storm barrier plan mentioned in the original Climate Ready Boston report—or, worse still, fail to build major harbor-wide defenses at all. If major studies by climate experts are saying that 3 feet of sea level rise by 2070 and 7.4 feet by 2100 are overly optimistic figures, then we need to plan for at least the highest reasonable estimates: currently, the NOAA’s 8.5 feet or, better yet, the Nature paper’s 10.5 feet for the end of the century. It’s true that we could get smart or lucky and avoid those numbers by 2100. But what about 2110? Or 2150? Or 2200? Sea level rise is not just going to stop in 2070 or 2100.

 

Are city planners and researchers willing to gamble with the city’s fate to avoid sticky political and economic fights? Let’s hope not. For all our sakes. Or the recent Seaport District flood—and numerous other similar recent floods—will be just the start of a fairly short, ugly slide into a watery grave for the Hub.

 

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2018 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

TOWNIE: UMB DRUBBING, PAWSOX GRUBBING

UMB DRUBBING, PAWSOX GRUBBING

 

University cuts and a (possible) corporate scam just in time for the holidays

 

November 27, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

UMass Boston admin lays off more staff, unions push back

The neoliberal war on public higher education continues unabated in Massachusetts as the UMass Boston administration announced the layoff of 36 personnel last week, and a reduction in hours for seven more. According to the Boston Globe, all of them are “staff who clean the school, help run academic programs, work in the student health office, or in other ways support the daily operations of the university. Some have worked there more than 30 years.” UMB had 2,095 employees in 2016, but has cut 130 jobs so far this year. The university serves over 16,000 students.

 

As of this writing, campus unions are planning protests. Hopefully, such actions will ultimately build a political movement capable of operationalizing the prescriptions of the fine report a coalition of UMB “students, staff unions, and faculty” released in September. Entitled “Crumbling Public Foundations: Privatization and UMass Boston’s Financial Crisis,” it lays the responsibility for the budget crisis currently engulfing the university at the feet of the UMB administration, the UMass Board of Trustees, and the state legislature.

 

As well it should. The legislature has been slashing the state higher ed budget since the 1980s. The board keeps raising the tuition and fees paid by students and families to cover the resulting gap. And the UMB administration continues increasing the number of high-level administrators with questionable job descriptions and fat paychecks who somehow rarely face layoffs—despite costing the school far more per capita than each of the low-level employees who keep getting axed of late. All while expanding the campus in ways that don’t always benefit the urban students that institution was built to serve… running up unsustainable debt loads in the process.

 

The report calls for five major reforms that its authors believe would set the campus to rights:

 

  1. UMass Boston should not be required to show a positive net income in its budget. Instead, it should be allowed to make debt payments using the reserves it’s been forced to build up for the last few years—and the Board of Trustees should “release Central Office reserves” to help with those payments. Rather than compelling students and their families to shoulder such costs through ever-increasing tuition and fees.
  2. The UMB administration should engage in an open and transparent planning process with faculty, staff, and students that will “ensure that the campus can continue to provide an affordable and diverse education along with appropriate support services to its students,” review interest and principal payments, and review the rapid increase in high-level administrator expenses.
  3. The UMass Board of Trustees should endorse the Fair Share Amendment that will levy an additional 4 percent income tax on millionaires and spend the money on public higher education, pre-K-12 education, and transportation if passed by binding statewide referendum next year.
  4. The Mass Legislature should cover the cost of rebuilding crumbling campus infrastructure.
  5. The Mass Legislature should annually increase appropriations for public higher education until we are at least on par with the national average based on our state’s wealth.  The Commonwealth is presently at the bottom of the pack for state appropriations for public higher ed.

 

The white paper concludes with a visionary sentiment that’s worth reprinting in full: “In considering these recommendations, we ask that we all—members of the Massachusetts legislature, the UMass Board of Trustees, UMass Boston’s administration, and the larger community of Boston—remember the purpose with which we are tasked. Chancellor John W. Ryan, at UMass Boston’s 1966 Founding Day Convocation, reminded those gathered that ‘we have an obligation to see that the opportunities we offer… are indeed equal to the best that private schools have to offer.’ This is the expectation that the citizens of our Commonwealth have for themselves and their family members when they come to UMass Boston. This is the responsibility that UMB staff, faculty, and administrators take on each day on behalf of our students. This should be what guides the decision of the Board of Trustees and the Mass legislature as we work to address the crisis at UMB.”

 

PawSox Worcester visit: boondoggle in the making?

Meanwhile, in faraway central Mass, my Worcester Magazine colleague Bill Shaner is tracking what could be another big giveaway of local and state money. Seems that the Pawtucket Red Sox—the BoSox Triple A affiliate team—have been courting Worcester for a few months and might be looking to move there in exchange for lashings of public lucre. Shaner reports that multiple sources said that Jay Ash, secretary of Gov. Baker’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, attended a meeting last week between Worcester officials and PawSox bigs. Though “City and PawSox officials both declined to comment on the meeting, or whether or not it took place.” While “Ash’s staff confirmed he was in Worcester Monday but couldn’t say what for.” All I can say for now is that, like some capitalist Santa Claus, whenever Ash appears corporate leaders can virtually always expect a yuuuuge present from the Bay State and any municipal government in range in the near future. So this nascent Woo-town deal is definitely worth watching.

 

Townie (a worm’s eye view of the Mass power structure) is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

AUSTERITY BUDGET, PART 4

Untitled drawing (2)

June 6, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The Worst of the Senate FY 2017 State Budget Proposal

Continuing to track the worst proposed cuts at different stages of the vicious and dispiriting annual Massachusetts state budget process, it’s time for a look at the full Senate budget proposal.

As with my overviews of the worst cuts in the governor’s,  House Ways and Means Committee’s, House’s, and Senate Ways and Means Committee’s FY 2017 budget proposals, the numbers in this column are based on the analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases on an ongoing basis. In this case, the “Conference Preview: Differences Between the Senate and House Budgets for FY 2017.” For all the details, check out massbudget.org.

Nothing really new to see here. To quote the current MPBC report, “In the end, the House and Senate budgets are very similar. Not only are the budget totals within 0.1 percent of each other (which makes sense since they had essentially the same amount of revenue to work with), but the two proposals are also within half of one percent of each other in every major category.”

And so it goes. There is no protection from the budget ax for programs that benefit huge numbers of Bay State residents. Especially with a $311 million budget deficit looming before the end of the current fiscal year – due to spring tax receipts that are significantly lower than the Baker administration’s rosy increased projections of January. We live in an era when politicians are reduced to spending their days wrangling over which group will get screwed more. With two exceptions: the rich and the corporations they control. The very groups that can no longer be taxed in a political system they have bought and paid for.

Environment & Recreation

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $11.4 million (5.36 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $201.4 million. A .14 percent smaller cut than the House proposal, after the Senate added back $5.1 million to this line during its full budget debate. Still a horrendous and ill-timed proposed reduction. And this far along in the budget process, one that is unlikely to be reversed.

Public Health

A minor bright spot. The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would add $2.5 million (.43 percent) to current FY 2016 levels for a total $582.9 million. By adding $5.9 million back to this line during its full budget debate – mostly for substance abuse prevention and treatment – the Senate has now joined the House and Governor in essentially level funding public health spending in the Commonwealth.

Housing (funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $38.8 million (7.94 percent) from current FY 2016 levels, after adding back $3.5 million during its full budget debate. Leaving $450.0 million. $3.8 million more than the House proposal. As the MBPC report points out, “the Senate’s budget, like the House budget, is about $40 million lower than FY 2016 current spending for the Emergency Assistance (EA) program that provides shelter to low-income, homeless families. If this lower funding level is included in the final FY 2017 budget, it is likely that the Legislature will be required to provide supplemental funding for the program because the cost of providing shelter for those who are homeless and eligible for shelter will probably exceed the amount appropriated.”

Transitional Assistance (aka welfare, funds for short-term help for poor individuals and families)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $26.7 million (3.84 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $667.1 million. Although the MBPC report doesn’t say it, this represents a $5.5 million cut from the Senate Ways and Means Committee budget proposal. So unlike the other lines reviewed here, the full Senate debate actually took more money away from its original proposal rather than adding any back. The poorest of the poor have few defenders in the legislature. And it shows.

Economic Development (funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work)

The FY 2017 Senate budget proposal would cut $14.1 million (9.2 percent) from current FY 2016 levels, after adding back $8.8 million during its full budget debate. Leaving $139.1 million.

CORRECTION
In his Apparent Horizon column of June 6, entitled “Austerity Budget, Part 4,” Jason Pramas did not properly reflect some changes in numbers used by the Mass Senate between their Senate Ways and Means and full Senate budgets that were analyzed by the Mass Budget and Policy Center in their “Conference Preview: Differences Between the Senate and House Budgets for FY 2017” report. As a result, the numbers used in the Public Health and Economic Development sections of the column were incorrect. And while Pramas did identify an MBPC typographical error in the Transitional Assistance section of their report, the numbers in that section of his column based on that error were also incorrect. For the correct numbers, please check the updated MBPC report at
www.massbudget.org. The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism regrets the errors — which do not, we hasten to add, change the fact of the savage cuts to the budget areas in question in any significant way.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

AUSTERITY BUDGET, PART 3

Untitled drawing

May 24, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The Worst of the House and the Senate Ways and Means Committee FY 2017 State Budget Proposals

A weekly column like this one can only keep up with a limited number of current events. Although committed to tracking the worst proposed cuts at different stages of the often-savage annual Massachusetts state budget process, I had to write about a number of other pressing topics in the weeks after the passage of the full House proposal. So I haven’t covered the House budget until now, and will instead simply roll it in with my review of the more recent Senate Ways and Means Committee (SWMC) budget proposal below.

As with my looks at the governor’s and House Ways and Means Committee’s FY 2017 budget proposals, I’m continuing to base this series on the excellent analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases on an ongoing basis. If you’d like to check out all the details, you can find the latest at massbudget.org.

All proposals to date have been austerity budgets. The many critical services not touched on here are mostly level funded or being given minor increases—neither sufficient to keep up with inflation, and therefore both tantamount to cuts. No new taxes of any consequence have been proposed—as the state government’s financial situation continues to get worse year after year. The rich and corporations remain safe from giving anything like a fair share of their profits to the people of this “Commonwealth.”

Environment & Recreation

House proposal

The FY 2017 House budget proposal would cut $11.8 million (5.5 percent) from current FY 2016 levels—less than originally proposed, after money was added during the floor debate. Leaving $201.0 million.

SWMC proposal

The FY 2017 SWMC budget proposal would cut $16.5 million (7.75 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $196.3 million. A .75 percent larger cut than the governor’s proposal. And a 2.25 percent larger cut than the House proposal—making it the worst proposed cut to this vital state government department thus far. According to MBPC’s SWMC budget report, some of the cuts can be explained by shifting responsibilities like human resources from agencies within the Department of Environmental Protection to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, but the SWMC proposal “further reduces funding for several environment and recreation programs that have had significant cuts over the years.”

Public Health

House proposal

The House budget proposal level funded public health, as did the governor’s budget.

SWMC proposal

The FY 2017 SWMC budget proposal would cut $3.4 million (.59 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $577.0 million. $7.6 million less than in the governor’s proposal and the House proposal.

Housing (funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people)

House proposal

The FY 2017 House budget proposal would cut $42.6 million (8.71 percent) from current FY 2016 levels—less than originally proposed, after money was added during the floor debate. Leaving $446.2 million. $19.2 million below the governor’s FY 2017 proposal.

SWMC proposal

The FY 2017 SWMC budget proposal would cut $42.3 million (8.65 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $446.5 million.

Transitional Assistance (aka welfare, funds for short-term help for poor individuals and families)

House proposal

The FY 2017 House budget proposal would cut $14.3 million (2.1 percent) from current FY 2016 levels—less than originally proposed, after money was added during the floor debate. Leaving $679.5 million. $7.3 million (1.1 percent) above the governor’s proposal.

SWMC proposal

The FY 2017 SWMC budget proposal would cut $21.2 million (3.1 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $672.6 million.

Economic Development (funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work)

House proposal

The FY 2017 House budget proposal would cut $9.9 million (6.5 percent) from current FY 2016 levels—less than originally proposed, after money was added during the floor debate. Leaving $143.3 million. $6.4 million (4.7 percent) above the governor’s proposal.

SWMC proposal

The FY 2017 SWMC budget proposal would cut $22.9 million (14.9 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $130.3 million.

HORIZON LOGO TRIMMED

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

 
 

AUSTERITY BUDGET: PART 2

HOUSE PIC

April 28, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The lowlights of the Mass House Ways and Means Committee FY 2017 state budget proposal

Time for a look at the latest act of the Commonwealth’s annual fiscal circus: the House Ways and Means Committee (HWMC) FY 2017 budget proposal.

As with the governor’s FY 2017 proposal three months back, I’m simply going to give readers a taste of the worst proposed cuts culled from the ever-helpful analytical reports that the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) releases at each stage of the budget process. If you’d like to check out all the details – and I highly recommend that you do—you can find the latest MBPC budget report at massbudget.org.

Beyond the outright reductions I review below, most other programs are slated to be level-funded or given slight increases—both of which amount to further cuts by failing to keep up with inflation. Meaning that if the HWMC budget proposal is enacted, our state’s financial situation will continue its downward spiral. Unless the Mass political establishment finally does the right thing and raises taxes on corporations and the rich to properly fund state government again. And that isn’t happening without a grassroots mass movement that hasn’t materialized yet.

The main bright spot in the HWMC proposal is a modest increase in funding for local public schools. According to MBPC: “The proposal both directly increases Chapter 70 funding (state aid to local school districts) by more than the Governor recommended and funds a reserve account that can supplement Chapter 70 aid for districts that were adversely affected by changes in the ways the state counts low-income students.” Which is nice, but not enough—especially with hundreds of millions of state K-12 education dollars being regularly dumped on charter schools.

Otherwise, there’s potentially good news for a few other programs—like the State Police getting a whopping $20.6 million increase (7.8 percent) to add new troopers to their ranks. Joy.

But overall, the HWMC proposal will slash the budgets of a large number of vital social programs in a time of continuing economic crisis. Read on for some of the disquieting particulars:

Environment & Recreation

The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $16.1 million (7.6 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. Leaving $196.7 million. A .6 percent larger cut than the Governor’s proposal. Specific hits include gutting the Department of Environmental Protection with a very nasty cut of $4.4 million (15 percent) from current FY 2016 levels.

Housing

Funds for affordable housing, and shelter and services to homeless people. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $46.5 million (9.51 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $442.3 million. A 4.96 percent larger cut than the governor’s proposal.

Transitional Assistance

This program used to be called welfare in (slightly) more honest times. It provides short-term help for poor individuals and families. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $27.2 million (3.9 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $666.6 million. This represents a reduction of 35.9 percent since FY 2001 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Other Human Services

A grab bag of programs in various areas—notably support for veterans. For example, the FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut veterans’ services (including the Soldiers’ Homes) $4.6 million from current FY 2016 levels. For a total of $146.1 million. That’s $1.9 million less than the governor’s proposal.

Economic Development

Funds for programs that, among other things, help unemployed people find work. The FY 2017 HWMC budget proposal would cut $26.7 million (17.5 percent) from current FY 2016 levels. This includes painful cuts to: the One-Stop Career Centers that serve unemployed people (a $525,491 cut from both current FY 2016 levels and the Governor’s FY 2017 proposal—for a total of only $4 million), YouthWorks (formerly Summer Jobs Program for At-Risk Youth, a 23.1 percent cut from current FY 2016 levels, and a 21.7 percent cut from the governor’s proposal), and the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund that provides training for unemployed workers that got zero funding – while the governor’s proposal would increase FY 2017 funding $2.2 million from last year’s levels for a total of $4 million.

HORIZON LOGO TRIMMED

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

 
 

SQUAWK OR WALK: MORE PROTESTERS NEEDED TO SAVE MBTA, PUBLIC TRANSIT STATEWIDE

AH MBTA

Photos by Chris Faraone

March 18, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Last week, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board—appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2015 to run the transit authority—voted to hike fares by 9.3 percent. Claiming the move is absolutely necessary to stop the T’s perpetual budget crisis from worsening. Which is just pathetic. Because if ever there was a manufactured crisis, our state government’s refusal to properly fund its multiple mass transit systems is a prime example.

In 2000, the Commonwealth reversed its previous “backward funding” policy of simply paying any MBTA costs that fares didn’t cover at the end of each fiscal year. The move to so-called “forward funding” has been a disaster for mass transit in the Bay State ever since. The goal was to make the MBTA function like a for-profit company—which would somehow do more with a restricted budget allotted at the start of each fiscal year—and less like the indispensable public service that it is. The funding policy was later adapted for the other 15 regional transit agencies statewide. But in practice, as is often the case with such privatization moves, it has forced them all to struggle for survival. Leading to endless deficits anddoubling MBTA fares since its introduction.

There is a straightforward solution to this non-crisis. The state must go back to fully supporting the MBTA budget, must increase the mass transit budget statewide, and must raise taxes on the rich and corporations to cover any conceivable budget shortfalls for such an important public good.

But that simple, just and obvious solution isn’t “realistic” to neoliberal legislators, pundits and advocates that prefer to squirrel around the edges of the problem in ways that let the rich and corporations that they serve off the hook. While allowing critical mass transit systems to continue to deteriorate. And I count all five members of the Control Board among the “realists”—including union leader Brian Lang,whose yes vote on the fare hike was especially disappointing. Although he did successfully push some amendments that softened the blow for low-income riders.

The problem is not the lack of solid policy solutions. The problem facing MBTA riders in the Boston area and riders across the other regional transit agencies statewide is a lack of a big enough popular movement to push through such solutions. And therefore a lack of political power.

This is not to say there aren’t transit advocacy groups. There are over a dozen area organizations with solid track records in transit policy. Most are members of the Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) coalition—which has made good progress toward the broad goal of properly funding public transit statewide through the passage of initiatives like the 2013 Transportation Finance Act. But even such gains are constantly under threat, and difficult to defend—let alone build upon—without lots of active public support. As we’ve seen with the state reneging on the portion of the act that “guaranteed” that MBTA fare hikes would never be more than 5 percent every two years going forward. So much for that, right?

What’s missing is basically a larger statewide version of the T Riders Union (TRU)—a project of T4MA member Alternatives for Community and Environment. Many of you will already be familiar with TRU because if there’s a media-savvy protest on transit issues in Boston, they’re probably at the center of it.

The problem is similar to the one I outlined last week when discussing the difficulty labor unions have turning their members out for public protest actions in light of the success of the BPS student walkout. Groups like TRU, and their allies in coalitions like T4MA, can turn out dozens to protest key government meetings as they did for the most recent MBTA Control Board meeting and the series of  public hearings on the fare hikes before that. They can occasionally turn out more people, hundreds, for rallies and marches. But they can’t turn out thousands, and tens of thousands, on transit issues.

Yet that’s what’s needed. If a political movement doesn’t have money like big business, then it needs lots of people protesting to have significant effect on the progress of key public debates.

Numbers like the 2,000-plus BPS students that turned out last week—in the right places at the right times—can change what’s politically “realistic” overnight. Smaller, largely symbolic protests generally cannot do that.

Also, smaller organizations and coalitions have a hard time mustering enough troops to deal with the everexpanding number of issues in a broad policy area like mass transit. For example, MBTA advocates don’t just have the fare hike to deal with. There’s also the late night bus debacle. And the unrelentingattacks on unionized transit workers. And the idea of privatizing more services by handing them off to companies like Uber and Lyft (because handing Commuter Rail service off to corporations has beenworking so very well). And the increasingly savage Green Line Extension fight. And that’s just Greater Boston. Start looking at the crises facing the regional transit agencies, and there are dozens of other issues that need more public attention.

That’s why it would be great to see TRU—and all the transit organizations already on the ground—get stronger. And it would be awesome to see groups like TRU sprouting up all over the state wherever they don’t currently exist. The more grassroots, the better. All linked together more tightly than they are today. In every neighborhood, town, and city served by the MBTA and the regional transit agencies. Because that’s what’s ultimately going to make it possible to win the simple, just solutions that will get mass transit out of hock in Massachusetts, and back on the global cutting edge.

The more people in the streets for transit justice, the better the outcome for Massachusetts. A pretty simple political equation.

Think that over. Then act. Before public transit is just a memory.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.