As Beacon Hill gears up for yet another casino debate, we will surely start hearing about the many wonderful benefits of expanded gaming for Massachusetts. Millions - no, billions! - of dollars will flow into the state’s coffers! It will solve all our budget problems! Create thousands of jobs! Bring peace and prosperity to our great land!
Hyperbole and too-good-to-be-true promises are nothing new for Beacon Hill, of course (and probably any legislature). But before Massachusetts goes ga-ga for gaming, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting is out with a report on another major piece of legislation which should make us even more skeptical of the sweet nothings DeLeo et al will be whispering in our ears.
NECIR takes a look at the 2009 transportation merger which rolled multiple agencies into one Department of Transportation. At the time, the public was promised that this merger would save the state billions of dollars by eliminating duplication and cutting waste. Legislative leaders were throwing around estimates of projected savings of $6-6.5 billion over 20 years. And the Patrick administration projected a reduction of 300 employees.
The reality? The cost savings estimate has been dialed way back to $2 billion over 20 years and a grand total of 31 net positions have been eliminated. NECIR found that DOT has actually added 457 new employees since the merger. To be fair, many of these positions are project-specific and the positions will be eliminated upon completion of the project. But for now, we're still paying for them.
One aspect of Transportation Secretary Jeffrey Mullan’s explanation for why their payroll estimates were off strikes me as curious. He says when he estimated a reduction of 300 employees, he did not “anticipate that the Congress would pass the stimulus program, and that drove headcount.” Hmmm. Well, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February of 2009. Governor Patrick signed the transportation legislation into law in June of 2009. I’m sure Secretary Mullan and the Administration had done their estimates and projections months earlier, but in the four months between the passing of the federal stimulus program and the signing of the state law, Secretary Mullan didn’t feel like piping up and saying, ‘hey, this might change our projections a little’?
So the much-hailed transportation merger will probably only save about one-third of what it was projected to, and - at least for now - has not led to the reduction in payroll the Administration claimed it would. Unfortunately, this report is just another reason in a long list of reasons why the public should take everything that comes from Beacon Hill with a large grain of salt.