NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

January 16, 2013

More transportation money? Fool me once ...

Apparently, despite having the fourth-highest per-capita tax burden and the highest debt in the nation, we still can’t afford our state transportation system. Wouldn’t you think that infrastructure, which is one major reason we have government, would be a priority for spending already available revenues?

And yet, every few years, we hear it again: roads and bridges crumbling, public transportation running on empty, what to do? Hand-wringing public officials and Big Business leaders get together, offer us a choice of various tax, fee and toll plans, and hope we dumb marks will buy promises of better management one more time.

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has just released the latest “transportation funding plan,” which includes a menu of possible tax hikes and “potential” reforms. Gov. Deval Patrick watches the public response to his trial balloon as he prepares for tonight’s State of the State address.

The game never changes: We get to argue among ourselves as to which tax/fee proposals we dislike the least and might accept, and prove ourselves fools and enablers once again.

A recent poll showed that 83 percent of those polled don’t want a 15-cent increase in the state gas tax. So the governor is floating a 30-cent increase. Wow, that makes a 15-cent increase look almost reasonable!

This month, the usual list of tax hikers meets at the Statehouse to urge an increase in the income tax rate to 5.95 percent. Now the transportation financing plan floats a possible 5.66 percent rate. Wow, so much better than 5.95 percent!

Never mind that the voters, angry that they were still paying the 1989 “temporary” income tax hike, rolled back the rate to its traditional 5 percent on the 2000 ballot. The Legislature froze it at 5.3 percent in 2002, but we’ve since re-elected most of the legislators who kicked us in the teeth. They eventually allowed a small reduction to 5.25 percent last year, for which we were really, pathetically, grateful!

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