Weekly Roundup — Trolley Trouble

Photo: Thinkstock

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 28, 2015….The intestinal somersaults endured this week by market investors and retirees with 401ks had nothing on the sinking feeling Medford and Somerville property owners felt as their hopes for having bought into the next hot neighborhoods dipped almost as low as the Red Sox playoff prospects … almost.

As Trumpmania washed over Greater Boston filling the void left by most lawmakers and bureaucrats trying to enjoy the last vestiges of summer, Gov. Charlie Baker started preparing for his first official international trip, an energy summit for New England governors and Canadian premiers in Newfoundland, where the forecast for the governor’s arrival on Sunday is a comfortable 74 degrees and sunny.

Closer to home, the governor and his administration found themselves confronting yet another challenge on the transportation front: the threat of the long-promised Green Line extension project turning into mini-Big Dig debacle.

Even as the Baker administration has moved to tighten the state’s purse strings and called off a proposed $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, transit activist were resting somewhat comfortably knowing that the court-mandated expansion of the Green Line, as well as projects like South Coast rail, had not found their way into the governor’s crosshairs.

For one thing, the project is already underway and the federal government has committed close to $1 billion to extend the trolley into Medford and Somerville.

But as someone who knows a thing or two about cost overruns on major transportation construction projects, All-Aboard Baker found himself staring at a balance sheet for the Green Line extension that could put the project more than $1 billion over budget.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone spent the week trying to assure residents of his city and others that the project was not really in jeopardy, even though cancelling it remains an option, albeit an extreme one. For now, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and other officials plan to explore ways to lower the price tag, including moving away from contractor White Skanska Kiewit or scaling back on some of the station bells and whistles.

“Everything’s on the table, and everything includes cancelling the project, but that’s not where we want to go, but we need a project we can afford to build,” Pollack said.

Like the emotions of real estate owners in Somerville’s Union Square, the pendulum swings of the stock market, fueled by anxiety over China and Greece, also had budget watchers’ heads on a swivel. With the state’s finances overly dependent on capital gains taxes, any prolonged slump could be cause for concern. But by week’s end, the market showed signs of rebounding, highlighting the wisdom of reminding yourself that state budgeting is a 12-month marathon, not a day-to-day sprint.

Donald Trump surely knows a thing or two about real estate and investing, but it’s his opinions on immigration and women that have been making headlines. Ahead of Trump’s Friday visit to the Bay State for a fundraiser at the home of car dealership magnate Ernie Boch Jr., immigration activists protested The Donald on the steps of the State House and NARAL Massachusetts was organizing to picket Boch’s Norwood estate.

Next week will bring with it the Center for Health Information and Analysis’s annual report on health care spending, a measure of the state’s progress toward the benchmarks for controlling costs laid out in the 2012 health care cost containment law.

But before that survey, CHIA wet appetites for health and hospital data with a teaser report showing that profitability at 62 acute care hospitals across the state remained steady in fiscal 2014. Overall, hospitals, led by teaching facilities and academic centers like Massachusetts General Hospital, posted $1.2 billion in profits, and only eight reported losses as hospitals serving large shares of low-income and elderly patients had the biggest bottom-line improvements.

CHIA’s health care spending analysis of the past year will arrive as 300,000 consumers across Massachusetts will be forced to absorb a more than 6 percent increase in health coverage rates starting in January.

In other news, new State Police Colonel Richard McKeon invited bystanders to charge their camcorder and cell phone batteries if they’re interested in videotaping police interactions with the public, Baker continued to pay lip service to expanded access to charter schools, former state Sen. Steve Baddour announced he was jumping from McDermott, Will & Emery to join Bill Weld and Mo Cowan at ML Strategies and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe discussed a letter from the feds indicating the end might be in sight to their quest to get land in trust to build a casino.

McKeon, who took the oath of office in Worcester on Thursday, tackled a number of controversial issues heads on in his remarks and comments to reporters afterward: “We have nothing to hide. By all means, hold us accountable,” McKeon said, welcoming the public to videotape his officers.

The state’s new top cop also said the State Police will continue to explore the possible use of body cameras on troopers, an idea Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has recently voiced support for after a number of high-profile incidents both inside and outside Massachusetts where police actions have come into question.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Transit officials open the books on the Green Line extension project, and it’s not pretty.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

Comments are closed.