Mass. falls in US News ranking from ‘best’ state to eighth state
We’re number, er, eight!
Massachusetts, heralded as the “best” state by US News & World Report just last year, has fallen to eighth on the list, hurt by a drop in its rankings on infrastructure and fiscal stability, and by adjustments in the publication’s methodology.
Now number one is . . . Iowa.
The news could sting Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who leaned into last year’s ranking, trumpeting Massachusetts’ number one status on national network television and in his State of the Commonwealth address.
And while the notion of crowning any state the “best” is dubious, Baker’s three Democratic challengers piled on Tuesday, with former state budget secretary Jay Gonzalez saying, “If Charlie Baker were CEO of a company, he would be fired.”
The new rankings will also give bragging rights to a New England rival, New Hampshire, which clocks in at number five, ahead of Massachusetts this year.
“From our unparalleled ski slopes to our pristine lakes, there is a reason so many Bay Staters visit New Hampshire on the weekends,” Governor Chris Sununu said in a statement to the Globe. “With the fastest growing economy in New England and the lowest poverty rate in the nation, today’s rankings reaffirm what we all know: New Hampshire is open for business.”
In order, US News said the top 10 “Best States” were: Iowa, Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Washington, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Colorado.
While Massachusetts still ranks tops in education, a metric that includes college readiness and rates of high school and college graduation, it falls short on other measures.
In 2017, the publication ranked the state 19th on infrastructure. Now, Massachusetts has fallen to 45th. That ranking includes metrics like Internet access, public transit use, commute times, and bridge and road quality.
In early 2017, US News said Massachusetts ranked 29th in fiscal stability, a measure that included the state’s credit rating, budget balancing, and pension fund liability. Since then, a national bond-rating agency downgraded Massachusetts’ creditworthiness for the first time in almost 30 years.
Now, Massachusetts is 40th in fiscal stability, which US News weighs much more heavily in this year’s rankings.
Gonzalez used the ranking to sharpen his attack on Baker, as did his competitors for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former Newton mayor Setti Warren and environmentalist and entrepreneur Bob Massie.
“Massachusetts has been on a roll for a while, but our state government is failing, and a creature of Beacon Hill like Charlie Baker just can’t fix it,” Warren said.
Massie said Massachusetts is facing deep structural problems in transportation, education, housing, renewable energy, and job creation — and “Governor Baker has no serious long-term plans for addressing any of them.”
Massachusetts being knocked down a few pegs results from changes in both the state’s standing relative to the 49 others, and shifts in methodology, US News said.
Data were updated with newly released information, primarily from 2015-2017, said Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at US News. As a result, Massachusetts “also saw decreases in performance in metrics that are similar to the inaugural rankings, such as [a] lower rank for health care access in the health care category.”
This year’s rankings were based on 77 metrics across eight categories, the publication said. In calculating the rankings, each of the categories was assigned weight “based on the average of two years of data from an annual national survey that asked a total of more than 30,000 people to prioritize each subject in their state.”
In order of importance to the total ranking, 2018’s subjects were: health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime and corrections, fiscal stability, and quality of life.
David Paleologos, the pollster who directs the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said one should be “cautious not to read too much into the change. Massachusetts is still in the top fifth.”
But, he said, “I think the red flags in their analysis are informative in terms of infrastructure and fiscal soundness.”
Some specialists — last year and now — questioned the methodology.
“Junk science last year, junk science this year, and junk science next year, no matter what the score,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a Tufts University political science professor who dug into US News’ methodology and data Tuesday.
“Yet it does pick up some weaknesses in Massachusetts,” he said. “Infrastructure is one of them. The MBTA is creaking, and our highways are overcrowded.” (The state ranked 47th in commute time.)
For Baker’s part, his spokesman released a statement underscoring that US News changed some of the ways it measured states.
“While it is understandable that the organization would alter its metrics, the administration is proud to have increased the rainy day fund by nearly 20 percent, brought spending in line with revenue, [and] made significant down payments on pensions,” spokesman Brendan Moss said in a statement.
But if down payments on pensions don’t do it for you, and you’re compelled to head to a place at the top: One-way flights Wednesday from Boston to Des Moines were about $400.
Small price to pay for being number one.