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The Coming Train Wreck


I had some business today that required me to get in my car and drive to the Merrimack Valley. It’s a 50 mile round-trip drive I make at least three times a month; 35 of those miles are over two of Massachusetts’ wonderful highways – highways whose surfaces and structures are badly in need of billions of dollars in repair.

I made the trip yesterday without a second thought. My Subaru Outback gets about 25mpg on the highway, so I burn about four gallons of gas on that trip each month, 48 gallons each year. Assuming the average price of gas doesn’t fluctuate too wildly, I’ll multiply that by $2.70 and, rounded, figure it costs me $130 per year for that trip. No big deal.

But I work from my home and have no commute. If I had to make that trip five days a week, 46 weeks per year (accounting for vacation, holidays, sick time, etc.), my total commute would be 8050 miles, using 322 gallons of gas at about $870.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a plan to pay for the repair of those roads: a new gasoline tax that would add $.115 per gallon to that annual cost, or another $37. Plus, the governor wants to install a device in my car to track my travels over the state’s highways and charge me an additional five cents per mile, or $402.

In other words, Governor “Together We Can” Patrick wants to impose a 50 percent increase to my driving costs. And I’m not alone in wondering – as Massachusetts pols will find out in the fall, I predict – how much deeper into my pocket the Bay State plans to dip.

It’s not a small sum. If I were better at math, I’d try to estimate how much more it will cost me, under Patrick’s plan, to visit family, run errands, and conduct additional business on the road, but I doubt neither my brain nor my heart could take the pressure. But that’s not the only tax issues on the minds of Massachusetts residents.

To assuage my worries over the state’s impending budget woes, Patrick has also proposed licensing three casinos in the state. That idea has set off a firestorm of debate, especially in the legislature. Massachusetts clearly endorses gambling as a source of revenue, raking in nearly $1 billion in profits per year through the lottery system, but in a demonstration of intellectual dishonesty Beacon Hill has stood adamantly against allowing private interests to own and operate casinos. I’m casino neutral, for what it’s worth, and believe the state should provide a framework for local communities to decide for themselves, and work with those communities to best manage their operation.

Meanwhile, as the discussion on the subject of the Commonwealth’s budget woes rages on, and as the governor and legislature work on new, creative ways to increase revenue (cutting state spending is never an option, after all), there’s a locomotive that’s about to leave the freight yard and it’s already building up a head of steam.

Massachusetts Libertarians are once again gathering signatures to put a question before the people that would eliminate the state’s income tax.

I’ve signed the petition and look forward to hearing the politicians and talk show pundits go apoplectic over the issue. A similar ballot initiative was put forth in 2002. At that time, the experts ridiculed the Libertarians for our naiveté, predicting that the good people of Massachusetts would much rather pay more and more and more for fewer and fewer services (Massachusetts’ state budget has risen by an average of $1 billion per year over the last fifteen years) than to demand fiscal responsibility from government.

No such luck: The question drew support from a shocking 45 percent of the voters: shocking to the pundits who said the question would be lucky to get half that number, and shocking to those of us with more common sense who wondered why anyone wouldn’t seize the opportunity to stick it to The Man. Six years later, with even greater economic uncertainty among the working class and a stronger sense of entitlement among the political class, I sense that taxpayer angst is on the rise.

In November of 2008, the taxpaying citizens of Massachusetts will once again have the opportunity to send a message to the state and tell Governor Patrick and all the solons gathered on Beacon Hill just how fed up we are with out of control spending. Instead of using our hard-earned money to fund pet projects, wasteful social programs, and giveaways meant to curry political favor, we can loudly demand restraint and fiscal responsibility.

It’ll be a train wreck, with the citizens of Massachusetts speeding down the rails toward the state’s budgetary bus, stalled on the tracks. Like any good Hollywood train wreck, it will be fun to watch.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 9:00 AM | Permalink

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