Thoughts on Aviation's Importance and What Might Have Been for Revere

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reading a press release the other day from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on federal grants for improvements to ten "general aviation" airports in the state, I found myself thinking about the long-vanished airport in the city where I grew up.

The Revere Airport, in existence for only 34 years (1927-61), was located off of Squire Road (Route 60) on a site now mainly occupied by the Northgate Shopping Center.  It adjoined Rumney Marsh, a huge tidal basin and marshland on the back side of Revere Beach.  Within the marsh was a seaplane basin, remnants of which can still be seen from a passing vehicle on the Northeast Expressway.

Decades before tycoons began spinning dreams of travelling to meetings in Boston on seaplanes to the Seaport District, a.k.a. the South Boston Waterfront, there were seaplanes touching down in the great city of Revere, Massachusetts.

When he was looking for something to do with us after church on a Sunday morning, my father would drive with me and two or three of my brothers to the parking lot of the Revere Airport to watch planes take off and land.  An hour of this counted as real fun for kids in late-1950s America.

I don't know what fascinated us most about plane-watching in Revere.  It had something to do, I think, with the size of the planes -- they were so tiny against the immensity of the sky and seemingly so fragile as they bounced down on the runway -- and something to do with the great distances they may have traveled and the unknown places they may have visited.  They were marvelous machines from far away, imagination stokers.

Considering how much aviation and air travel have changed in the nearly 60 years since the demise of the Revere Airport, it's easy to dismiss that time and place as insignificant and quaint.

Had one now-forgotten-but-fate-making decision gone differently, however, we might be talking today about Revere as the home of one of the nation's (and the world's) super-airports and, hence, as an economic powerhouse.  

In 1939, Revere was under serious consideration as the site of Massachusetts's first state airport, a selection that fell to Jeffrey Field in East Boston, and that led, of course, to the colossus we know and depend upon today as Logan International Airport.

Revere Airport and Jeffrey Field did not differ much in 1939.  Revere Airport was a sleepy, small-time operation consisting of 156 acres of mostly empty land.  Jeffrey Field occupied 189 acres of smelly tidal flats, had one runway paved with cinders, and was used primarily as a base for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Massachusetts Air National Guard, then the poor stepchildren of national defense.

No one could have foreseen in 1939 how important, how incredibly large, how far reaching aviation would become in the modern world, nor predict its contributions to our prosperity and way of life, nor fathom the ways it would affect our understandings of our planet and its distances...

And, as the August 28th press release I mentioned at the beginning attests, it is not just the Logans of the world that matter greatly to us.

There are 38 entities in Massachusetts categorized as "public use airports," not including airports like Logan and Hanscom in Bedford.  Collectively, they support more than 199,000 jobs, with $7.2 billion in total annual payroll, and generate annual economic activity totaling $24.7 billion, according to the 8-28-19 release, ("MassDOT Announces Award of $27 Million in Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program Grants").

The new Airport Improvement Program grants, or AIPS, in Massachusetts were as follows:
  • $904,000 to Barnstable Municipal Airport (Hyannis) to update its Airport Master Plan Study;
  • $1.8 million to Beverly Regional Airport to develop an Airport Master Plan Study and  reconstruct its runway;
  • $13.8 million to Fitchburg Municipal Airport to extend and reconstruct its runway and  rehabilitate its taxiway;
  • $1 million to Martha's Vineyard Airport to acquire an aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicle and conduct an environmental study;
  • $106,000 to New Bedford Regional Airport to install perimeter fencing;
  • $131,855 to North Adams Municipal Airport to install perimeter fencing and conduct a wildlife hazard assessment;
  • $53,550 to Orange Municipal Airport for an environmental assessment pertaining to a new hazard beacon light for navigation;
  • $152,292 to Plymouth Municipal Airport for the demolition of an existing administration building;
  • $2.3 million to Provincetown Municipal Airport to construct a taxiway, install perimeter fencing and do environmental mitigation work;
  • $6.9 million to Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield for runway reconstruction and improvements.
Public use airport projects are eligible for AIP grants if they are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.  Published every two years, this plan identifies public-use airports that are "important to public transportation and also contribute to the needs of civil aviation, national defense and the U.S. Postal Service."

This Moment in Corrution: Yet Another Misbehaving Home Health Agency

Thursday, August 22, 2019

In the latest announcement (Aug. 15) from Attorney General Maura Healey concerning the work of her department's Medicaid Fraud Division, we learn that a Boston-based home health company, Guardian Healthcare, will be paying $1.95 million "to resolve allegations that it filed claims for payment...that were not certified as medically necessary."

From April 2010 through July 2016, the AG's office said, Guardian "failed to obtain and/or maintain plans of care authorized by a physician for certain patients."

In order for a home health agency to bill MassHealth (the name we give to Medicaid in Massachusetts), a MassHealth patient's physician must review and sign a plan of care certifying that home health services are medically necessary.  Further, home health agencies are required to maintain good records for at least six years after care has been provided and claims for payment have been made.

In addition to laying nearly $2 million on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Guardian has agreed to implement "a multi-year, independent compliance program which will involve updating its policies and procedures, training its staff, and conducting annual audits to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations."

The AG's office said the Guardian settlement "is part of a larger effort to combat fraud in the home health program," and cited these other cases:
  • The conviction of the owner of a home health company in May on charges related to fraudulent billing to the tune of $2.5 million.
  • The payment in April of more than $10 million by two home health companies to resolve allegations of billing for unauthorized services.
  • The conviction of the owner of a Boston home health company in August of 2018 on charges stemming from a scheme "to steal millions from MassHealth."
At roughly $17 billion in total spending, MassHealth will account for more than 40 percent of the entire state budget during the current fiscal year, 2020.  (It's important to note that the federal government will reimburse the state for more than half of all that spending.)  The program covers 1.8 million Massachusetts residents, one in every four.

The latest available figures indicate that, in FY 2018, Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division recovered over $45 million for MassHealth.

Spending tax proceeds on the Medicaid Fraud Division is a good investment.  For every dollar earmarked by the legislature for this purpose in FY 18, the Division recovered $11 from the program's bad actors. 

If Former Gaming Chair's a Little Worried, Maybe We All Should Be

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Boston Globe's Shirley Leung had a great idea for a column this past week: invite Steve Crosby, the original (now former) chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, to lunch at the newly opened Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett and get his reactions to the Wynn Corporation's lavish gambling mecca on the Mystic, ("Ex-chief of gaming panel is wowed by new casino," 8-8-2019). It was Crosby's first visit to the completed casino.

Now, Crosby did a superb job as founding chief executive of the government entity that had the tall order of bringing casino gambling appropriately to life -- of actualizing the will and the vision of the legislature when, in 2011, it legalized gambling at one slots parlor and as many as three casinos in Massachusetts.

He has not yet received the credit due for his model service as commission chair. Over time, I hope what Crosby did in that high-pressure/high-stakes role will be seen in a proper light and he will be esteemed accordingly.

The best part of Leung's column, I felt, was its conclusion, where Crosby expressed concern that Encore Boston Harbor might not generate sufficient revenue to justify the Wynn Corporation's multi-billion-dollar investment -- that is, to make it sufficiently profitable in the eyes of those who make big investments in publicly traded companies. 

My long-lingering, oft-expressed fear that, one day in the not-too-distant future, we will see a casino rescue bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature seemed all of a sudden reasonable.

Excerpt from Leung:

"...then there's the question of whether Wynn Resorts can make a return on its investment.  When the company won the license in 2014, it planned to spend only $1.6 billion, not a billion dollars beyond that.

" 'It's got to cause everyone to pause,' Crosby said. 'Now we all just hold our breath and hope it works.'

"As for his role in shaping the state's casino industry, here's a bit of self reflection: 'Even with many years of experience in high level politics and public life, I underestimated the PR, political and legal maelstrom that establishing casinos would engender.  On top of it, I made my share of mistakes.  So how has it worked out?  I would say so far, so good.  But the truth is we will not know the long-term cost/benefit trade-offs of destination resort casinos for years or even decades.' "

We can thank Crosby for his honesty and candor. 

How's this whole thing with casinos going to work out for Massachusetts?  Who really knows?  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'd say the odds of a bill being filed to reduce the level of taxation on gambling establishment proceeds from 25%, where it now stands, to somewhere between 15% and 20%, are better than even. 

If the rate isn't cut, gambling chiefs will say, many hundreds of casino and slots parlor jobs will have to be eliminated.

Consider that, in April, revenue at the MGM casino in downtown Springfield was $4 million lower than it had been in March, and that, in no month since it opened (in August, 2018), has MGM Springfield reached its pre-opening projections of $34.8 million in monthly gross revenues.    In April, for example, it grossed $21.8 million.

MGM Springfield officials say they are pleased with its overall performance.  How long will their patience last?

Pledge Dukakis Made 31 Years Ago this Summer Still Challenges the Nation

Thursday, August 8, 2019

More than 30 years have passed since Mike Dukakis was nominated for president by the Democratic Party.  He was in his third term as Massachusetts governor when he accepted the nomination on the final night of the Democratic national convention, July 31, 1988. 

The day after his acceptance speech, Dukakis had a lead in the polls of 17 percentage points over his Republican opponent, Vice President George H.W. Bush.
I remember very well watching that speech on television.  It was a hot night, an exciting night: The Duke was on a path that few ever get to tread.  My extended family and I were vacationing on Cape Cod, staying in a rented house in Harwich, not far from Red River Beach.  I especially remember the pledge given at the conclusion of the speech. 

On the most prominent stage he had ever stood upon, here is what our governor told the world:
“…as I accept your nomination tonight, I can’t help recalling that the first marathon was run in ancient Greece, and that on important occasions like this one, the people of Athens would complete their ceremonies by taking a pledge.

“That pledge – that covenant – is as eloquent and as timely today as it was 2,000 years ago:
‘We will never bring disgrace to this, our country.  We will never bring disgrace to this our country by acts of dishonesty or of cowardice.  We will fight for the ideals of this, our country.  We will revere and obey the law.  We will strive to quicken our sense of civic duty.  Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this country greater, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.’

“That is my pledge to you, my fellow Democrats.
“And that is my pledge to you, my fellow Americans.”

After that convention, Lee Atwater, the Bush family retainer then serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee, infamously said he was going “to strip the bark off the little bastard (Dukakis)” and “make Willie Horton his running mate.”
Horton was an African American who, while on furlough from a prison in Massachusetts in the time of Dukakis’s governorship, raped a woman in Maryland. 

Team Atwater made a TV ad for Bush on the Horton case that stoked white-vs-black fears and biases.  It was a racist, dishonest piece of propaganda for which Atwater kind of apologized later, shortly before his death at 40 from brain cancer.
“I am sorry for both statements,” Atwater said, meaning his desire to (a) strip the bark off Dukakis, and (b) make Horton his running mate.  He added that he was sorry for the first part because of its “naked cruelty,” and for the second because it made him “sound racist, which I am not.”

He owned up only to doing something that multitudes – mistakenly, in his view -- experienced as racist; he was sorry he had made them feel that way because he himself, of course, was not a racist.  We hear similar things today.
By the end of September 1988, Dukakis’s lead over Bush evaporated.  Five weeks later, Dukakis lost to Bush by more than seven million votes and carried only 10 states and the District of Columbia in the electoral college.

If our country, as transmitted to us down to this moment, is greater, stronger, prouder and more beautiful than it was in 1988, and if dishonesty (on racism, for example) and cowardice (on gun control, for example) have diminished over the past 31 years, I’m having a hard time this week seeing it.