Absorbing Mass Pike into DOT didn't produce promised savings - BU investigative report

June 19, 2011

The November 2009 absorption of the Massachusetts Turnpike into the state DOT has fallen well short of producing the savings promised beforehand. But there's widespread disagreement over the extent of savings, if any. This from Jon Marcus of the Center for Investigative Reporting of Boston University (BU).

Legislators who touted the move to abolish the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and fold it, Massachusetts Highways, Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and the Registry of Motor Vehicles into the DOT claimed it would save an average of $300m/year over 20 years. State senator Steven Baddour, Democrat chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation quoted $6 billion over 20 years while state senate president Therese Murray and House speaker Robert DeLeo, Democrats too, used a figure of $6.5b savings.

Consulting firm Deloite in  a study provided to legislators in 2009 said savings from the merger into a DOT would be in the range $4.0b to $6.5b over 20 years.

Transportation secretary Jeffrey Mullan told the BU reporters recently that actual savings will probably average $100m/year or around $2 billion over 20 years.

Debt service and health care costs are down through putting the DOT employees on a state health benefits scheme to which they are required to contribute.

A powerpoint presentation to legislators by the Patrick administration seeking necessary legislation early 2009 said the merger "streamlines transportation planning and programming and creates a more efficient and cost-effective system by consolidating multiple existing layers of bureaucracy" and "consolidates legal, human resources, IT, and procurement departments into shared services."

300 positions would be saved in the merger they said.

The separate agencies had 4,275 positions just before the merger. Therefore to save 300 positions (7%) the merged DOT should now have 3,975 positions. In fact it has 4,254, just 31 fewer than before the merger, a reduction in staff of 0.5% versus the promised 7%.

60 people were laid off, 112 resigned and 173 retired, while 143 others in net transferred to other state agencies for total departures of 488.

Against the 488 who left 457 new people were recruited, for the net reduction of 31.

149 of the Turnpike staff reductions in the 488 were Turnpike police troopers who patrolled the Turnpike. They were attached to the State Police on merger. They still patrol the Turnpike and are still paid out of Turnpike revenues.

If these troopers are deducted from the numbers of pre-merger staff (4,108) those who left state government employment as a result of the merger totaled 339. When that number is compared to 457 positions added, there was a net addition to staff of 118, as compared to the 300 staff savings promised - an increase of 2.9% versus a promised drop of 7%.

But Secretary Mullan says that federal stimulus funds and a ramp up in an eight-year bridge repair program required the extra staff to manage it, although the actual work is done by contractors.  Those who were recruited to manage the bridge repair program and the spending of stimulus funds were told their jobs only lasted as long as those programs.

Mullan is quoted by BU's Marcus as explaining why the staff numbers didn't move as expected:

"I did not anticipate that three things would happen, one being the advent of the accelerated bridge program, which would drive payroll up. Nor did we anticipate that the Congress would pass the stimulus program, and that drove headcount... you still need managers to manage the organization."

Mullan says putting aside the bridge projects and stimulus programs staff have been cut around 10%. He is quoted: "We've exceeded our objective."

So, has this merger, after all, turned out great?!? We guess it depends where you sit.


TOLLROADSnews 2011-06-19

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