With commuter rail cut, we’d be unique!

Plenty of bragging goes on around here about Massachusetts exceptionalism. We walk with a little bit of swagger, and often for good reason. U.S. News & World Report even confirmed that we’re the best state, owing mainly to our top rankings in education and health care.

Still, when the Bay State stands apart from the pack on an issue, it’s good to pose this reality-check question: Are we a forward-looking model that others would love to emulate, or could it be that we’re woefully out of step in a way no one would want to boast about?

That’s the context for the headline on today’s front-page Boston Globe story on the proposal floated by state transportation leaders to suspend all commuter rail service for at least a year.

“Weekend rail cut would be unique for major systems,” it reads.

The wording is ostensibly neutral in addressing the reality-check question. But to be clear, no one is arguing the weekend cut would be uniquely good in a U.S. News & World Report sort of way.

“No other major commuter rail system shuts down service for the entire weekend,” Nicole Dungca writes, citing a review of the country’s 10 busiest systems.

“I’ve never heard of that in a major American city,” an official with a New York-based foundation that studies and promotes transit tells her.

Transportation officials say weekend shutdown of commuter rail would save $10 million out of an overall target of $42 million in savings needed to close the MBTA’s operating deficit.

While T leadership under Gov. Charlie Baker has vowed to bring business-like fiscal discipline to an agency long plagued by financial instability, a leading voice for the region’s business community had surprisingly sharp words for the idea.

“I think it’s shortsighted to be in the business of cutting public transportation services,” Jim Rooney, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, told the Globe.

“Sometimes public services are not about just the bottom line,” he added. “When I hear proposals like this, sometimes I think we’ve lost the true definition of public service.”

T officials are now emphasizing that there is no formal proposal to kill weekend commuter rail service. Spokesman Joe Pesaturo tells the Globe this is the start of a conversation, not the end of it.

A Boston Herald editorial on Wednesday speculated that this may be a dire warning shot fired by transportation leaders that will make more palatable some commuter rail cuts that fall short of complete weekend service shutdown.

Globe columnist Dante Ramos says well-planned weekend service interruptions to make needed safety upgrades on the commuter rail make sense but a full shutdown of weekend service does not. “If cutting all weekend trains is deemed essential to balancing the budget for 2018, why wouldn’t the same be true the following year?” he asks.

A one-year shutdown would only get people out of the habit of relying on weekend service, he says. If it resumed, one could imagine ridership being lower, which would only strengthen the argument to kill off weekend service once and for all.

“[I]f there’s an overarching strategy here, the T sure isn’t making it explicit,” writes Ramos.

Eliminating weekend commuter rail might make us special. But pulling away from the pack on this issue will hardly be a selling point for the next ranking of great states.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Baker administration asks for advice on how to structure an upcoming offshore wind power procurement, and three wind farm developers take strikingly different stances on perhaps the key issue — how big the initial procurement should be. (CommonWealth)

A commission recommends more state involvement in trying to deal with price disparities among health providers in Massachusetts, but it’s all a bit murky. (MassLive) Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, who co-chaired the commission, provides his perspective here. (CommonWealth)

A state auditor’s investigation of whether a 2012 state law is helping to restrain health care costs is itself soaring in costs, with Auditor Suzanne Bump asking for another year — and a further $375,000 — to complete the report. (Boston Herald)

A legislative commission studying whether to scrap daylight savings time hears testimony from a variety of experts and interest groups. (Lowell Sun)

A Lowell Sun editorial fully backs the Legislature as it begins revising the pot law passed by voters in November.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lenox votes to share a town manager with Lee as part of a three-year test. (Berkshire Eagle)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter fired a private snow plow driver working the city’s streets and terminated the contract of the longtime vendor who hired him after a home surveillance camera showed the driver dumping mounds of snow at the end of a driveway in a fit of pique. (The Enterprise)

A Holliston selectman has proposed creating a regional database for budget and service information for his town and four others in the area to allow officials and residents to compare themselves with their neighbors. (MetroWest Daily News)

Bostonians can sleep easy tonight: The Citgo sign has been saved. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Trump’s travel ban nationwide, saying the executive order was discriminatory in light of anti-Muslim statements by Trump and his surrogates during the campaign and after. (New York Times)

The Environmental Protection Agency takes the biggest hit — a 31 percent reduction — in President Trump’s proposed budget. (Washington Post)

A Herald editorial says Trump has managed to unite the top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, both of whom are basically calling him a liar for claiming President Obama tapped his phone.

US Sen. Maggie Hassan delivers her maiden speech and focuses on the opioid crisis facing New Hampshire. (Eagle-Tribune)

James Donovan, Trump’s pick for the number two post at the Treasury Department, has been part of bizarre family drama centered on discredited allegations by his father, a retired MIT professor who lives on the North Shore, that his son hired Russian hitmen to kill him. (Boston Globe)

Joan Vennochi offers a welcome perspective on the folly of much of the “activism” of anti-Trumpers, including the silly effort to inundate the White House with postcards, saying Trump will only be stopped when his voters start to turn on him. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Tito Jackson faces a steep uphill climb to oust Boston Mayor Marty Walsh — but you wouldn’t know from following him around the city. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Federal Reserve raised its prime rate for the second time in three meetings and only the third time since the Great Recession as the economy shows signs of a sustained recovery. (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

The Lowell School Committee votes to bar immigration agents from city schools unless they have a court order. (Lowell Sun)

As student debt continues to spiral upward in a trend that could have a debilitating effect on the economy, state officials in conjunction with nonprofit advocates have launched an effort to inform families what’s at stake in financing a college education. (Greater Boston)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A doctor who headed several pain management clinics pleads guilty to running a pill mill that at times served more than 100 patients a day. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

Tim Murray, the head of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and a former lieutenant governor, slams the MBTA proposal to eliminate weekend commuter rail service. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Seattle-based research firm identifies US cities where self-driving cars would be most practical, and Boston scores 84.26, placing it in the middle of the pack. New Orleans was tops at 90.33 and Fort Worth, Texas, was lowest at 77.86. The prevalence of short trips was a key factor in the scoring. (Governing)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Scientists race to stop a whiteout of the world’s coral reefs. (Time)

Selectmen in Webster join their colleagues in other area communities by going on record in opposition to a proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Burrillville, Rhode Island. (Telegram & Gazette)

A “swim park” on the Charles River? It may be no pipe dream. (Boston Herald)

An environmental advocacy group has given Massachusetts an “F” for its limited disclosure laws on lead water pipes to homebuyers, one of 12 states to receive a failing grade. (MetroWest Daily News)

The planned break-up between Barnstable County and Cape Light Compact, which buys energy in bulk for all 21 Cape towns and Martha’s Vineyard, is becoming contentious as members of the Assembly of Delegates have asked for an audit of what the county owns after more than two decades of funding and administering the compact. (Cape Cod Times)

Another snow storm, another rant from Keller@Large about drivers who don’t clean the white stuff off their cars.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Critics continue to slam Boston for extending its six-month pilot study of police-worn body cameras by another six months, arguing that the city could move to equip all officers with cameras while continuing to study the best way to operate the program. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson humorously skewers Rachel Maddow and her “pro-Trump” tax news. And if you’re interested in the show This is Us, it’s also informative.

A new study from Harvard and MIT researchers published by the Columbia Journalism Review determines political polarization is more a right-wing phenomena than left. (Media Nation)

We’re supposed to know nothing about it, but we hear Olivia Vanni is the choice to take over the Boston Herald’s “Inside Track” column next Monday.