There was a GOP-sponsored rally at the State House today to protest Governor Deval Patrick’s proposed gas tax hike. Maybe you saw it on the news?
If you didn’t it might have been because the turnout was lousy. Republican Party mouthpiece Barney Keller told the Associated Press the protest “went excellent” even though AP and Boston Globe reporters ticked off a whopping 25 protesters while they were there. Maybe it was a case of quality over quantity. You’d think with the unemployment rate so high, more people would have been available to take part.
Unless they were busy hunting for a job.
Or couldn’t pay for the gas to drive up to Beacon Hill.
Patrick is pitching the 19-cents-per-gallon increase, coupled with some strategic reforms, as a way to tackle our myriad transportation issues, namely long-neglected road and bridge maintenance and repair, skyrocketing tolls along the Turnpike, and the debt of the Big Dig.
From Patrick’s speech last week announcing his plan:
Reforms are vital and therefore central to our plan. But we cannot secure our economic future and the public’s safety on the roads, rails and bridges with reforms alone. So, our Plan calls for a 19-cent increase in the gas tax. The average driver would pay the equivalent of about one large cup of coffee a week, less than $8 per month. And by restricting the gas tax to the transportation fund, taxpayers will be assured that their money is dedicated exclusively to transportation projects.
Even at the cost of a cup of coffee per week, for some a 19-cent hike in the gas tax will seem too high. For others it will seem too low. I looked at a range of options…if we wanted to solve all of our accumulated transportation needs, to address the full cost of neglect and inaction over the last 16 or more years, it would take a 73-cent increase in the gas tax!
As you can see, Patrick is extolling the virtues of sacrificing a little now to to save a lot later, and promising that the gas tax money would go toward a very specific purpose.
There are those who support the gas tax for reasons ranging from simple fairness — why should Turnpike users foot the bil by their lonesomes? — to the pragmatism that comes from getting backed into a corner; we’ve done all we can in the way of cutting costs, we’ve got reforms on the way, but we need revenue on top of it all to make this work. Opponents are angry that the governor’s response to the crisis is to increase the financial burden on taxpayers, many of whom are already struggling to pay their day-to-day living expenses.
Regardless of the opinion, everyone is reacting very much out of a sense of self-preservation. Those who say let’s share the pain so we can get rid of the Turnpike tolls? Turnpike users who think they’ll spend less on the gas tax per year than on tolls. Those who object to an increase in the gas tax? People who drive a lot and don’t use the toll roads much.
I have to agree with those who think a gas tax hike is lazy thinking. There are still a lot of places to look before the Legislature’s gaze falls on our wallets.
Let’s start with Patrick himself. He still driving that big Cadillac? Yep. That’s not a fuel-efficient car. The traditional Ford Crown Victoria isn’t much better, but it’s better. I’d suggest following the lead of many police departments and jumping to the Dodge Charger, specifically a six-cylinder model or that neat model that can run on fewer cylinders, then kick in the others when a little extra oomph is needed.
What about our legislators? They all receive a per diem to reimburse the cost of travel to the State House, along with any food or hotel expenses. Last year the Legislature collectively filed for more than $387,000 in per diems, and these they got on top of their salaries — which, if you’ll remember, went up by $3,300 a year in January. They now collect a tidy $61k a year, plus stipends if they have a leadership or committee chair position. Sorry, people: you wanted this job ostensibly to serve the people, so take one for the team: vote to strike the per diems and pay for your gas, food, and lodging out-of-pocket.
As for that whole Bg Dig debt thing? Patrick himself said the debt was due to cost overruns arising from project mismagement…in other words, Joe Average didn’t cause the problem, so why should any of us pay the penalty for others’ inability to run a major municipal construction project properly? That’s the Turnpike Authority’s burden to bear, and I’m sure there are some exorbitant salaries that could be scaled back.
At the end of the day, the need for more revenue may be unavoidable, but before our governor starts talking about the sacrifices we should make, he needs to do some more housecleaning first. Charity starts at home, Mr. Patrick, or in this case, at the State House.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.