The Debt Watch Committee I am On

Paul Heroux, State Representative
Paul Heroux, State Representative

I am on the state debt watch committee. This is formally knows as the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets

When I campaigned for state Rep, I said that I would be watchful of how tax dollars are spent. In keeping with this ideal I want to share with the reader yesterday's Bond committee hearing. 

The Bond committee oversees the capital budget. This is essentially the state debt and therefore the bond committee can be thought of as the debt committee. This is not money that we are spending; it is money that we are authorizing to borrow therefore it is debt. Moreover, the House and Senate do not spend the money; they authorize the spending. The Governor then decides to appropriate (spend your money or not).

In yesterday's committee hearing we heard testimony on two bills totaling $13.149 billion. 

In H3690, An Act Providing for Capital Facility Repairs and Improvements for the Commonwealth this general government bond bill authorizes $1.058 billion of capital spending to support capital needs at the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance and the Executive Office of Public Safety. 

In H3763, An Act Financing Improvements to the Commonwealth’s Transportation System this transportation bond bill authorizes $12.091 billion of capital spending to support transportation maintenance and upgrades throughout the Commonwealth. 

The bond committee, which I am on, is essentially the state debt committee. Neither of these two bills has been authorized as of right now.

What ROI?

In short, I asked the same question of three different presenters: are we going to get a return on our investment? 

The transportation bill authorizes money to be spent on deferred maintenance, and upgrades to existing public transportation assets. I don't have a problem with the case that was made to maintain current state assets.

My question was around expanding public transportation. I am not opposed to or in favor of expansion; I don't have enough information to take a position yet. 

I pointed out that if we are going to build a new railway, the need for such a railway should be based on a market analysis that shows there is a demand for the rail service. That market analysis should show that there are jobs at point A that people in point B have a skill set for and that the new transportation system will connect point A and point B. Moreover, we need to know that we are going to get sufficient tax revenues as a result of the increased rail service and these revenues will be enough to cover the cost of the annual payments towards the bond. 

This issue has been present since before I was a Rep. Accordingly, I ask for reports and I examine the methodology in the reports.

  • If the report has good methods, we can be confident in the conclusions. 
  • If the report doesn't have good methods, then the conclusions are worthless. 

The Mass Department of Transportation provided me with several reports back in Febuary when we were discussing this issue back then. One report, the market analysis report, was not done with sufficient scientific rigor, which means that if the study was done again, we might get different results. To the credit of the report authors, they admit this limitation in the methodology section 3.1.

I was not completely satisfied with the answers that I was given. In the defense of A&F, I was told they will get back to me.

My Point

I mention this quick story because I campaigned on better performance measures. I campaigned on evidence-based government. I campaigned on the idea that I would ask for evidence and be very critical of what is presented to me. 

Moreover, I have filed legislation that would answer if prison, sex offender and youth crime prevention programs are delivering the outcomes they claim. I also filed legislation that would measure if a gun violence reduction bill that I sponsored would actually reduce gun violence; the methods are available to others to critique. I ask for existing performance measures, reports, projections and analyses. I don't care so much about the conclusions of a report as I do as how well the report was done. "Numbers on a page" don't impress me. A "Line on a chart" doesn't tell me anything. Too often this is what I am given. I am not OK with this.

I am being watchful of the claims that are being made concerning our tax dollars. I am very critical of reports that state agencies and non-state agencies alike produce. If someone wants my support on an issue, they had better have sufficient data and research to validate their claims. And I have high standards. As I said, I am not impressed by numbers on a page. I want research to be done right. 

All those statistics, economics and research methods classes I took in college are being put to good use.

Paul Heroux of Attleboro is the State Representative for the Second Bristol District. Paul can be reached at 508-639-9511 or paulheroux.mpa@gmail.com.

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