Massachusetts: Democratic, Unionized and Very Expensive

Massachusetts: Democratic, Unionized and Very Expensive

© David Burton 2013

Public-sector Unions

     Massachusetts has often been referred to as the “Bluest State of all.” This denotes the almost total control of political offices in the state by Democrats. In days long gone, signs posted in front of establishments looking for workers in the state, would frequently carry the subscript, “Irish need not apply.” Today, when looking for candidates to run for public office in the Bay state, it might be appropriate to add the postscript, “Republicans need not apply.”

     Beside being the bluest of the blue states, Massachusetts has the honor of being the most liberal state in the union.[1] At the same time, it is the 10th most expensive state in which to reside.[2 ], while its capital, Boston, is the 7th most expensive city in America [3]. Along with this is the fact that unemploment benefits in the Bay State are more than twice the national average and extend 4 weeks longer than in any other state [4].

     Among the high living expenses in Boston we find that health care costs are 26% higher; and utilities, 47 % higher than the national average.[3 ] These high costs reflect the liberal bent of the Democratic political establishment in the state and of their public- and private-sector union supporters.

     One factor contributing to the high cost of living in Massachusetts is the stranglehold on state and local government by Massachusetts Democrats. In this state, Democratic means liberal and liberal means government largesse at the expense of all state residents. Another reason is the fact that Unions and the Democratic Party in Massachusetts are joined at the hip. Democratic politicians in the state make sure that their union supporters are taken care of legislatively, while the unions funnel their financial support back to the Democratic politicians, campaign for them, and get out the vote for them. Everyone makes out, everyone, that is except the poor slobs who end up paying the bills - the citizens of Massachusetts who pay higher taxes, higher than necessary public transportation costs, and higher insurance and health care costs.

     The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, often referred to as the MBTA or The T, is the public operator of most bus, subway, commuter rail, and ferry routes in the greater Boston area. The T is officially a "body politic and corporate, and a political subdivision" of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its immediate predecessor, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), was immortalized by The Kingston Trio in the popular folk-protest lament "Get Poor Charlie off the M.T.A." In 2008, the system was the fourth busiest subway system in the United States.[5]

     These days, the T is reported to be “wildly overpaying for basic maintenance service”.[6] A report by the Pioneer Institute states that the per-mile bus maintenance costs at the MBTA are almost twice as much as the average of all other bus transit agencies in the United States that operate more than 100 buses. [6]

     “Nationally, the MBTA ranks fourth in per-mile maintenance costs and second in staffing levels at garages.” (Ref. 6)

     With all this extra money being spent on maintenance, the commuting public in Massachusetts must be getting more reliable service with fewer equipment breakdowns than the other major transit systems in the U.S. But are they?

     The Pioneer report goes on to tell us that the MBTA ranks dead last in performance ratings, i.e., time between breakdowns, when compared with the 20 transit agencies ranked closest to it.[6]

     So, the MBTA has outrageous maintenance costs but the worst maintenance performance. How is this possible? Why does the state government, that oversees the MBTA tolerate such a situation? The answer – The Democratically controlled state government and the MBTA unions are married to each other. As the Pioneer report points out, the blame can be laid at the feet of the state’s overly restrictive pro-union and anti-privatization statute, known as the Pacheko Law, which makes it almost impossible for the MBTA to outsource the maintenance work through competitive bidding to obtain less expensive maintenance services.[6 ] Let’s see now, the Democratically controlled state government passes a law that requires the maintenance work to be performed in-house by MBTA union workers. These same unions make sure to provide the support that keeps these same Democratic politicians in power so that the anti-privatization statute remains in force. Sweet deal!

     The net results here in Massachusetts in 2013 are: higher public transportation fares, along with increased taxes on gasoline and cigarettes to pay for state subsidies to the transportation system, but still grossly expensive maintenance costs with highly substandard maintenance performance.

     It’s claimed that the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, is needlessly spending millions of dollars by imposing union-only Project Labor Agreements (PLAs).[7]

     “PLAs exclude non-union workers by requiring unions to be the ‘sole and exclusive’ source of all job-site labor.” (Ref. 7) If private companies took similar actions, their actions would be called monopolistic, restrictive of trade, and would be illegal under federal law.

     In early 2012, the state’s Transportation Secretary told an industry construction group that there would be no PLAs on upcoming bridge projects. Apparently, the Secretary hadn’t checked with his boss, Governor Patrick, or else the labor unions reminded the Democratic administration of their obligations to the unions. Subsequently, the administration reversed itself and announced there would be PLAs on a $215 million bridge reconstruction project. That meant that open shop companies that represent over 80% of Massachusetts construction workers were barred from bidding. The state received only 3 bids, with the winning bid coming in at more than 25% over budget, even before work began.[7]

     The results were similar for a reconstruction project on the Longfellow bridge between Boston and Cambridge. “That project was also well over budget before a shovel ever went into the ground. - - - when government restricts competition to benefit favored groups, the rest of us pay a heavy price.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 7 )

     Are the Democratic politicians who run the state really beholden to unions here in Massachusetts? The answer to this question lies in the influence money has over politics and who wields that influence. In 2010, among the top 20 Political Action Committee (PAC) donors in Massachusetts, 16 of the top-contributing 20 PACs were labor-related. From these 16 labor-related PACs, came more than 80% of the dollars contributed.[8] In any election, money counts. On top of that, financial contributions do not reflect the thousands of hours of free campaign labor provided by unions. This includes both public-sector unions and private-sector unions. In the case of Massachusetts’ public-sector unions, they “are some of the . . . most powerful special interest groups. They generally favor increases in government spending because they personally benefit from expanded programs.” (Ref. 9 ) Here in Massachusetts the union share of state and local government employment amounted to 61% in 2010[7], a very much larger percentage of workers than in the private sector, where, nationally, private sector unionization as of 2007 was only 8% among men and 6% among women.[10 ] With their large war chests, public-sector unions are very active in political campaigns. They have spent millions of dollars on various ballot measures, nearly always favoring the side of higher taxes and spending. Public-sector unions fight against school choice, privatization, and many other policies that can improve government efficiency.[ 7]

     So all of this helps explain why Boston ranks as the 7th most expensive city in which to live in the United States with a cost of living 40% above the national average [3] and why Massachusetts also ranked as the 10th most expensive state in which to live in 2012.[2 ]

     Clearly, Massachusetts is very Democratic, very unionized and a very expensive state in which to live. Coincidence???



  1. Poll: Ala. most conservative state; Mass. most liberal, USA Today, 1 February 2013.
  2. The Most Expensive States to Live in 2012,, Accessed 1 July 2013.
  3. Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live In, Michael DeSenne, Kiplinger, June 2013.
  4. The 8 Best States to Lose Your Job, sara Yin, Huffington Post, 25 May 2011.
  5. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Wikipedia, Accessed 1 July 2013.
  6. Runaway costs at MBTA, OpEd, Boston Herald, Page 14, 1 July 2013.
  7. Gov’s union-only project deals co$t, Greg Beeman, Boston Herald, Page 15, 1 July 2013.
  8. Whose Money Talks in Massachusetts Politics?, Steve Poftak, Boston Daily, 12 October 2011.
  9. Public-Sector Unions , Steve Poftak, Chris Edwards, Cato Institute, March 2010.
  10. Labor’s Decline and Wage Inequality, Steven Greenhouse, Economix, 4 August 2011.


02 Jul 2013 {Article 168; State_10}    
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