Illustrations By Travis Foster
CREEPING UP TO HUB HOME PRICES
According to the National Association of Realtors, the Boston housing market stood out for not registering double-digit percentage increases in home sales during the last quarter of 2004. The median sales price for a single-family home in the metropolitan area was $389,000, an increase of 9.4 percent over the same quarter in 2003. That was the seventh-highest price in the country, behind New York City, Honolulu, and several California markets. But the increase was not much above the national growth of 8.8 percent, and well below the 13.5 percent rise in the Northeast—which was fueled by double-digit jumps in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington.
In fact, it seems to be getting more expensive to live just outside the Boston orbit. The median home price rose by 10.7 percent in Springfield (to $171,000), by 16.0 percent in Albany, NY (to $169,000), by 16.5 percent in New Haven, Conn. (to $265,000), and by 14.5 percent in Providence, RI (to $276,000). As late as 2001, the NAR estimated that Providence homes were less than half as expensive as those in the Boston metropolitan area; now they are up to two-thirds the cost.
The cheapest market in the nation was Beaumont, Texas (a median price of $88,000), and the biggest drop in prices was in Charleston, WV (down 4.2 percent to $107,000).
NO CARPING FROM THE GALLERY
Joan Rivers didn’t show up to skewer the winners’ outfits, but the state Department of Fish and Game handed out its Sportsfish Awards at the Worcester Centrum in February. Hyde Park’s Roy Levya was dubbed Angler of the Year for catching 16 species of fish in 2004. The biggest catch of the year was a 35-pound carp reeled in by a New Hampshire resident in the Lowell section of the Merrimack River. MassWildlife, which has been reporting on the biggest catches since 1964, says that the record for biggest fish landed in the state is still held by Robert Pyzocha, who caught a 44-pound carp in the Connecticut River in 1993.
BIKERS TIP THEIR HELMETS TO BEACON HILL
The American Motorcyclist Association recently praised Bay State lawmakers for requiring that drivers’ education classes include information on “increasing other motorists’ awareness of motorcyclists.” (The law was enacted last fall; five other states have similar requirements.) Now the AMA is launching a state-by-state campaign to increase penalties for drivers who kill or seriously injure other car and motorcycle riders. However, this AMA—not to be confused with the American Medical Association—is still on record against mandatory helmet laws.
SOX FANS SCALPED
With the new baseball season underway, we’re reminded that one of every three of the 2.8 million tickets sold by the Red Sox last year were resold, mostly by scalpers who make a hefty profit selling to real fans. That’s what Michael Dee, the club’s COO, testified to the Legislative Subcommittee on Ticket Reselling at a hearing last November. “Is it fair for a family of four to travel here to spend $1,000 in tickets,” he asked, “especially when they may end up buying counterfeit ones?” No legislation to combat scalping came out of last year’s session, but the problem isn’t likely to improve this year, now that the Sox are World Series champions and as popular as ever.
STATISTICS BE DAMMED
The Bay State’s beaver population has tripled since a law against leg-hold traps went into effect eight years ago, according to the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and towns spent $500,000 last year to repair the toothy damage to public and private property. The IAFW estimates that there are about 65,000 colonies (a typical colony has eight to 10 members) in Massachusetts, which would mean that beavers now outnumber Bostonians.
The new data has only intensified the debate over leg-hold traps, which were banned by the state’s voters in 1996. There have already been legislative efforts, so far unsuccessful, to modify or repeal the ban (See Inquiries, CW, Spring ’04). But the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that the law is being scapegoated, and that the beaver population was soaring even before the traps were banned—as part of a cycle that will hit “a natural decline” without the return of leg-hold traps.
Meanwhile, the IAFWA also reports that Massachusetts is home to more and more coyotes (even in “some of the most densely human populated areas”) and black bears (from about 100 in the early 1970s to about 2,000 as of two years ago). For a good scare, read Peter Canby’s “The Cat Came Back,” in the March issue of Harper’s magazine, in which he writes about recent cougar attacks on humans in Western states and warns that larger predators may be ready to emerge from the wilds in our own backyard. “Already, bears and coyotes are invading the Eastern suburbs,” he notes. “Can cougars and wolves be far behind?”
BUT WHO’S COUNTING?
The determination was complicated by two questions. Are governors who serve non-consecutive terms counted twice? Yes, which makes Michael Dukakis both the 65th governor and the 67th. And are lieutenant governors counted when vacancies elevate them to the title of “acting governor”? No, which means that Romney’s predecessor in the corner office, Jane Swift, has been deep-sixed by history, not even earning a mention in the list of governors in the Manual for the General Court.
NOTHING CAPITAL ABOUT BAY STATE PLANNINGThe state’s capital planning process got a lackluster C+ in February from the Government Performance Project, which summarized the findings of journalists from Governing magazine and aca-demics from several universities. On the positive side, Governing noted the on-time opening of Boston’s convention center and a ramping-up of infrastructure maintenance outside of the Hub now that the Big Dig is almost done. “Massachusetts has finally learned something about how to handle the gigantic public projects it has long had a taste for,” the authors cautiously conclude. But the state lost points on fiscal planning: “There are no public multi-year projections of revenues and expenditures,” the authors warn, and long-term thinking “is subsumed by attention to the latest crisis.” Other problem areas included the hiring and retaining of state employees, and what the authors consider to be the governor’s disproportionate power in spending capital funds once they’re approved by the Legisature. The chief executive selects “some $1.25 billion in projects lucky enough to get his personal stamp of approval,” Governing tsk-tsks. “As a vehicle for good decision making, this is an Edsel.” (The allusion to a failed make of automobile was presumably not a personal dig at Gov. Romney, whose father once chaired American Motors Corp.)
Twenty-nine states received better grades than the Bay State did, with Utah and Virginia at the top with A-. Alabama and California got the worst grade given, a C-.