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Tufts University Will Launch CBO-Like CenterTo Estimate Costs Of Mass. Bills

A new nonpartisan research center, with a pair of former governors on its advisory council, is setting out to provide lawmakers and voters with "real-time" analysis of key topics, including projected impacts of ballot questions.

Tufts University's Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life announced the launch of the Center for State Policy Analysis on Thursday.

Over the coming months, it plans to conduct and release research into the regional Transportation Climate Initiative aimed at addressing carbon emissions from vehicles; options and trade-offs for responding to rising prescription drug prices; and the initiative petitions bound for the Nov. 3 ballot, potentially including the issues of beer and wine sales, access to digital vehicle repair data, and ranked-choice voting.

"There's no group in the state that does systematic analysis of ballot initiatives, and we want to be that group, because a lot of high-stakes lawmaking happens through the ballot," the center's executive director, former Boston Globe data journalist Evan Horowitz, said in an interview.

Horowitz said the goal is to function somewhat like a state-level version of the Congressional Budget Office, providing lawmakers with the most current information around bills they're voting on.

The center will respond to the major issues that come before the Legislature and aim to turn its work around on a timeline that can be "actionable," he said, perhaps in a span of six to 10 weeks rather than the same number of months.

"If it turns out there's a new issue that's hot and live and vital, then we're going to try to do some work on it," Horowitz said.

Members of the center's advisory council are: former Govs. Jane Swift and Michael Dukakis; Tisch College dean Alan Solomont; former Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer; Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers general counsel and deputy CEO Michael Curry; Katherine Craven, chief administrative and financial officer at Babson College and the chair of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; Ted Landsmark, director of the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University; David Cash, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston; Carolyn Ryan, senior vice president for policy and research at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; A Better City Executive Vice President Kate Dineen; and Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry.

Horowitz said the group's nonpartisan status is "a big challenge but also a big opportunity." He said it will not do any lobbying and will focus on objective, fact-based work.

The Tisch College at Tufts previously experimented with research on state policy as part of a Citizens' Initiative Review pilot sponsored with Healthy Democracy and Rep. Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown Democrat who announced this week he will not seek re-election. In 2016, researchers focused on a marijuana legalization ballot question.

The new group aims to publish its first research in March or April, Horowitz said.

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