Tufts University is launching a nonpartisan center to provide real-time analysis of legislation, state policies, and ballot questions, filling what its director called a void for state lawmakers and the public alike.
The Center for State Policy Analysis’s goal is to provide an independent look into the impact of Massachusetts policy making — from potential costs to comparisons to elsewhere in the country — similar to the role filled in Washington by the independent Congressional Budget Office.
And it’s diving right in: Its first report will analyze the hotly debated Transportation Climate Initiative, the regional pact designed to curb carbon emissions while likely raising gas prices. The center’s goal is to release a report in March or April, said executive director Evan Horowitz, a former Globe data reporter who focused heavily on economics and public policy.
The center also plans to review the options — and trade-offs — in tackling rising prescription drug costs, a current focus on Beacon Hill. It will also offer reports on the projected impact of various ballot questions that appear headed before voters this fall, including ones addressing the state’s right to repair law, expanded sales of beer and wine in food stores, and ranked-choice voting.
“A lot of policy making — high-stakes policy making — happens on the ballot. People are more willing to go to the ballot in an effort to work on issues they can’t get through the Legislature,” Horowitz said. “This is a vital area of policy making that strangely has been orphaned by the think tank world.”
Horowitz pointed to the impact of the Health Policy Commission’s analysis of a failed 2018 question to regulate nurse staffing in hospitals. The commission said it could cost the Massachusetts health care system more than $900 million a year, offering a third-party voice in a campaign dominated by hospital and union interests.
“I think there is proof of concept of why such a group would be useful,” he said of the center.
The center will be guided by an 11-person advisory committee that includes former governors Jane Swift, a Republican, and Michael Dukakis, a Democrat; Alan Solomont, the dean of Tufts’s Tisch College and a former US ambassador to Spain and Andorra under Barack Obama; and Michael Curry, deputy chief executive of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, among others.
“The work itself has to be fact-based and evidence-based. And the reputation has to be maintained as a nonpartisan outfit,” Horowitz said. “I think about that as a prime objective.”