Archives For Finance
College launching gap year program
MEDFORD, Mass. — A new Tufts University program hopes to remove the financial barriers keeping cash-strapped students from taking a year off after high school to travel or volunteer, offering an opportunity to explore different communities before starting college.
This “gap year” program launching this fall will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can add up to $30,000 or more.
Students selected for Tufts’ 4+1 program can defer their admission for a year while remaining tied to the university through video chat and email. Tufts will work with volunteer organizations to create packages that fit students’ financial needs.
Holly Bull, president of the Center of Interim Programs, says students are able to see the world beyond the bubble they grew up in and get a better perspective of their future.
Money would go to repairing roads; Senate committee approves hike
CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s gas tax could be on the rise. A 4 cent increase per gallon could take effect this summer.
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved the increase Tuesday.
Department of Transportation officials said 51 miles of state roads slip from what it deems fair condition to poor condition every year and the funding is badly needed. Opponents said increasing the gas tax will hurt more than it helps.
The state’s gas tax has held steady at 18 cents per gallon for a long time.
“We had a 4-1 vote, which I think was important, and it’s necessary because of the condition of the roads and bridges and infrastructure in the state of New Hampshire,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.
The increase would start in July and bring in an added $32 million a year to pay for road repairs.
“We need our infrastructure. It’s important for our citizens and important for our business community,” said Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry. “So, this was my effort to have a reasonable increase to partially restore what we’ve lost over time.”
Rausch said he hoped to boost transportation funding through expanded gambling, but increasing the gas tax was Plan B.
“I think you have to do the math, and I keep saying if you drive 10,000 miles and you get 25 miles to the gallon, it’ll cost you $16 a year,” Rausch said. “You hit a pothole, it’s going to cost you a lot more than $16 to fix a tire, a rim, shock absorbers, etc.”
The lone vote against the increase came from Senate President Chuck Morse.
“This tax will not produce what people think it will produce to fix roads in the state of New Hampshire,” said Morse, a Republican.
Morse said he is worried about people who pay the gas tax.
Lauren Gagne of Concord said the more she drives, the less she likes the idea of more expensive fuel.
“Now, I travel to Manchester because most of my family’s there and I’m helping my grandmother,” Gagne said. “So, I have to travel there a lot and there’s the tolls, and there’s this stuff.”
Others said the tax would be just a drop in their tank.
“I think it’s a small price to pay for roads that work and jobs for people,” said Dan Berry of Concord.
Given the Republican sponsors with their names already on the bill, it would appear it has the votes to pass the Senate, but there are no guarantees. Gov. Maggie Hassan has indicated if the bill has bipartisan support, she will sign it.
By Andy Metzger, State House News Service
EVERETT, Mass. — Tasked with developing a portion of its own revenue, the state Department of Transportation is closing in on plans to raise Registry of Motor Vehicle fees, in addition to the previously announced 5 percent increase in MBTA fares.
Registrar of Motor Vehicles Celia Blue told the News Service the RMV has still not yet determined the size of the fee increase and will make a presentation to the state Transportation Board on March 19.
State Department of Transportation officials in late January described Registry fees as “the only viable revenue source” to close a projected $55 million budget gap for fiscal 2015. The Registry collected $550 million in revenue in 2013, including $134 million in motor vehicle inspection fees.
Registration fees, title certificates and driver’s license fees are other top revenue generators at the RMV.
At a budget hearing Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Richard Davey laid out efficiencies through telecommunications and bridge-building technology and plans to team up with New England states for the purchase of salt and tires and move 4,000 employees off the debt-funded capital plan.
The transportation chief who helped the unsuccessful push for Gov. Deval Patrick’s larger tax package last year also discussed the fiscal constraints the department faces and the potential monetary blow if a ballot referendum passes, repealing the law that indexes future gas tax increases to inflation.
“Toll revenue cannot be used to meet our obligation to pay for transportation staff on the operating budget. Therefore, the one revenue source we can and we will turn to is registry fees,” Davey said.
He also said, “The repeal of the gas tax indexing will result in a loss of an estimated $2 billion in capacity for projects over the next decade. This will be a significant cut to an already underfunded long-term transportation program.”
Tens of thousands of registered voters have signed petitions to put a gas tax indexing repeal measure on the November ballot, arguing against automatic tax triggers and asserting that lawmakers should have to vote each time the gas tax is raised.
The July 2013 tax law required MassDOT to fund a portion of its budget through its own revenues and savings. Davey said Patrick’s fiscal year 2015 budget increases transportation funding by $141 million, including $55 million from MassDOT revenues, allowing the state to move employees from the capital budget to the operating budget.
Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who has been outspoken in favor of repealing the gas tax indexing, said he would “avoid” talking about that when Davey appeared before the House and Senate Ways and Means committees at Everett High School.
“I’m happy to debate you any time on the gas tax,” Davey said.
While Diehl did not respond at the hearing, he reacted swiftly to a News Service tweet reporting on Davey’s challenge. “Equally happy to debate the Secretary on taxation without representation, anytime,” Diehl tweeted.
Davey said MassDOT has been in discussion with other New England states about jointly purchasing salt and tires, and he said the Public Private Partnership Commission, which was established by a 2009 transportation reform law, held its first meeting last May.
“Currently, the commission is studying the possibility of a third, tolled bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, the construction of ‘managed lanes’ on Route 3 South and enhancements to state-owned real estate parcels such as rest stops adjacent to state highways,” Davey said.
The state faces a potential funding shortfall, as the Federal Highway Trust Fund is scheduled to go into deficiency in August, Davey said. If that happens, he said, “We’ll be cutting projects throughout the state.”
Davey also said the MBTA, which powers trains with electricity, has undertaken energy efficiency projects over the last four years that have reduced annual consumption by 8.8 million kilowatt hours and saved $1.75 million.
Construction projects have been handled more quickly by closing down facilities – such as the Callahan Tunnel – providing incentives and penalties for on-time completion, and completing much of the construction work off-site on bridge projects.
“We are finishing projects in days, not years,” said Davey, who asked the Legislature to grant MassDOT the ability to reimburse utilities for their costs on a broader array of projects.
Auburn SportsPlex filed for bankruptcy in 2012
AUBURN, Mass. — Athletes and their families may be out of luck after an Auburn sports facility suddenly closed on Friday.
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that the Auburn SportsPlex, which runs training programs and has an indoor field, said it was closed until further notice. A judge ordered the facility to shut down after its liability insurance expired, according to The Telegram.
It’s not clear if those who have signed up for youth and adult soccer, baseball, softball, field hockey and lacrosse will be able to get their money back.
The facility has been in financial trouble for years, The Telegram said, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012.
Electric customers to pay millions for ice storm repair
Officials tell the Portland Press Herald that the ice storm is expected to be deemed an “extraordinary storm event,” allowing utilities to seek regulatory approval of an offset from ratepayers to recoup recovery costs.
It’ll take time for CMP and Bangor Hydro Electric Co. to tally expenses associated with the storm that knocked out power to 160,000 Maine homes and businesses.
Target: 40 million credit cards at risk
Target says anyone who made purchases by swiping cards at terminals in its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.
The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.
Here are some answers to the most common questions about the theft:
Q: I shopped at Target during that time. What should I do?
A: Check your credit card statements carefully. If you see suspicious charges, report the activity to your credit card companies and call Target at 866-852-8680. You can report cases of identity theft to law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission.
You can get more information about identity theft on the FTC’s website at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or by calling the FTC, at (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338).
Q: How did the breach occur?
A: Target isn’t saying how it happened. Industry experts note that companies such as Target spend millions of dollars each year on credit card security, making a theft of this magnitude particularly alarming.
Experts disagree about how the breach might have happened.
Avivah Litan, a security analyst with Gartner Research, says given all the security, she believes the breach may have been an inside job.
But thefts of this size are too big to be the work of company employees, says Ken Stasiak, founder and CEO of Secure State, a Cleveland-based information security firm that investigates data breaches like this one. Stasiak says that such breaches are generally perpetrated by organized crime or an overseas, state-sponsored hacker group.
Stasiak’s theory is that the hackers were able to breach Target’s main information hub and then wrote a code that gave them access to the company’s point of sale system and all of its cash registers. That access allowed the hackers to capture the data from shoppers’ cards as they were swiped.
James Lyne, global head of security research for the computer security firm Sophos, says something clearly went wrong with Target’s security measures.
“Forty million cards stolen really shows a substantial security failure,” he says. “This shouldn’t have happened.”
Q: Who pays if there are fraudulent charges on my account?
A: The good news is in most cases consumers aren’t on the hook for fraudulent charges.
Credit card companies are often able to flag the charges before they go through and shutdown your card. If that doesn’t happen, the card issuer will generally strip charges you claim are fraudulent off your card immediately.
And since the fraud has been tied to Target, it’ll be the retailer that ultimately compensates the banks and credit card companies.
Q: How can I protect myself?
A: Like they say, cash is king. You can only lose what you’re carrying, though admittedly many people may not feel safe walking around with a wad of bills in their pocket.
As stated before, credit card companies don’t hold consumers liable for charges they don’t make. Usually the worst thing consumers have to deal with is the hassle of getting a new credit card.
And the paper trail generated through credit card transactions can often make it easier do things such as return items you’ve purchased, or keep track of work-related expenses.
It’s worth noting that while debit cards offer many of the same perks as credit cards, without the worry that you’ll spend more than what’s in your bank account, they often don’t come with the same kind fraud protections.
As a result, those card holders may have a tougher time getting their money back if their number is stolen.
Q: How much is this going to cost Target?
A: It’s too soon to tell. In addition to the fraud-related losses, banks may start charging Target a higher merchant discount rate, which is the amount retailers pay banks for providing debit and credit card services. While the percentage difference may be tiny, it could result in steep costs given the volume of transactions Target does, Litan says.
Litan added that the company could also face class action lawsuits from consumers, though most of them will be meritless, and fines from federal agencies. When combined, the costs of the breach could be so steep that they actually prompt Target to raise prices, she says.
“The real winner in this is Wal-Mart,” she says.
Q: Can the bad guys be caught?
A: Stasiak says that given the sophistication of this attack, there’s only about a 5 percent chance that the perpetrators will eventually be caught and prosecuted.
He notes that in cases like this, it’s hard to determine where the attack originated and given the large mass of information involved it’s not going to be found housed on someone’s home computer.
Q: How can future breaches be prevented?
A: Litan says an easy way to prevent fraud would be to eliminate the use of easily cloned magnetic strip cards and upgrade to the kind of microchip technology used in most other parts of the world.
But she says banks have pushed back against the idea, because the microchip cards cost significantly more than the magnetic strip version and changing over all the country’s ATMs could drive the total costs into the billions of dollars.
Lyne says it’s unclear if the use of microchip cards would have prevented the Target breach, since it’s unclear how it happened, but that it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Q: Why is the Secret Service investigating?
A: While it’s most famous for protecting the president, the Secret Service also is responsible for protecting the nation’s financial infrastructure and payment systems. As a result, it has broad jurisdiction over a wide variety of financial crimes. It isn’t uncommon for the agency to investigate major thefts involving credit card information.
Report: Harvard University’s deficit soars to $34 million
School finance officials pledge to manage costs better