Massachusetts is the best state in the country? You’ve got to be kidding me.
In a prime example of some first-class hogwash, good old U.S. News & World Report – or as the wags have long called it, U.S. News & World Distort – is promoting yet another ridiculous list, this one of the nation’s best states, if such a thing can really be ranked. Massachusetts came in at No. 1 and our beloved neighbor to the north, New Hampshire, was No. 2.
Massachusetts was cited for all the predictable reasons – a plethora of top universities, a booming tech and biotech sector, and world-class hospitals and research institutions.
All of which apparently trumped our nearly dead-last rankings for housing affordability, infrastructure – read erratic train service and traffic-clogged, tortuous commutes – and “economic inequality,” which is turning growing areas of Greater Boston’s urban core into a playground for the rich and affluent.
Basically, it’s a great place to live, just don’t try to buy a house, rent an apartment or attempt any commute longer than 10 to 15 miles unless you are reasonably well off. That’s not even mentioning other costs not dealt with in the survey but that are also particularly high in our corner of the world, such as electricity rates, food prices and a state university system that charges some of the highest tuition rates and fees in the country when it comes to public higher education.
To be clear, I’m not saying Massachusetts is the least best state – according to U.S. News there is such a thing, and it’s Louisiana.
A series of governors starting with Mike Dukakis have done a decent job priming the pump and helping the Bay State shift with the times, making the state generally more business friendly, especially to the burgeoning innovation economy. Gov. Charlie Baker has gone a great job of advancing the ball by taking on the dysfunctional MBTA. Ditto for Boston’s mayoral leadership over the past few decades, from Kevin White through Menino to Mayor Marty Walsh today.
Stable, competent and honest leadership at gubernatorial and mayoral level – notwithstanding some big corruption scandals in the Legislature – have meant that Massachusetts, especially Greater Boston and the eastern third of the state, have been able to take advantage of national and even global trends that have sparked a renaissance in urban living.
Victims Of Our Own Success
Yet we are victims of our own success – all that pump priming has steadily stoked the state’s economy, leading to a boom in jobs in complex fields requiring high levels of education and, in turn, drawing an influx of upwardly mobile, talented and generally well-paid professionals.
Our growing population, especially of higher-paid executives, entrepreneurs, researchers and academics – as well as the overall expansion of our region’s tech/biotech/university industrial complex – has put increasing pressure on a housing market starved for new construction and a highway and rail system that is past the overload point.
And here’s where our state’s political leadership has been sorely lacking, with no one truly taking the lead to push for the expansion of the basic housing and transportation infrastructure needed to accommodate all this new growth.
Baker gets a gold star for taking on the T, but that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to Greater Boston’s transportation woes. Chronic traffic congestion spreads from the main arteries like Route 128 to secondary suburban roads, and commuting even relatively short distances has become an interminable time sink for far too many residents.
While Boston’s mayor has been pushing hard to boost new condo and apartment construction in hopes of lowering prices for the city’s struggling middle class, there has long been a leadership void on the state level, especially when it comes to meaningful zoning reform in the suburbs where the bulk of the Boston area’s homeowners and renters live. Instead, towns and suburbs across the region are allowed to continue merrily along in their misguided NIMBY ways, throwing up roadblocks that have made teardowns of older, more modest, middle-class homes the only new construction in a growing number of upscale communities.
The result is an ever-growing swath of towns and city neighborhoods across the Boston area where middle-class buyers and renters are essentially frozen out.
What of New Hampshire, No. 2 in U.S. News’ best state survey? The Granite State has benefited as much from the problems besetting its larger neighbor to the south than from its own, inherent virtues.
Stagnant new construction and high home prices in Massachusetts have transformed Southern New Hampshire into a suburb of Boston as buyers have had to move ever farther away from the urban core in search of something affordable.
The politicians, and to some extent the business elites, that call the shots in Greater Boston are already insufferably complacent, shielded from many of the frustrations their constituents and employees are confronted with on a daily basis.
This piece of inane puffery from U.S. News won’t inspire anything more than another round of self-congratulations – and what’s really needed is soul-searching.