Beacon Hill legislators have once again picked the pockets of taxpayers. And this time, they’ve made the pilfering permanent.
Led by the Democrats, state representatives and senators yesterday voted to override Gov. Deval Patrick’s veto of a $500 million tax hike aimed at funding improvements to the state’s roads and highways and propping up the woefully mismanaged Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The bill calls for a 3 cents per gallon hike in the state’s gasoline tax and makes future increases a certainty by indexing the tax to inflation. It increases the cigarette tax by $1 per pack and applies the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax to computer and software services.
In the House, where the override passed 123-33, just three Democrats joined all 30 Republicans in voting to sustain the veto. In the Senate, the vote was 35-5 with just two Democrats voting in opposition.
And please, hold any applause for Gov. Patrick. He had only vetoed the measure because he wanted a much larger increase in the gas tax.
The gas tax hike is particularly egregious. The tax on gasoline in Massachusetts will increase from 21 cents per gallon to 24 cents per gallon at a time when gas prices already are on the rise. Legislators have long complained that increasing fuel efficiency has cut into gas-tax revenues. Indexing future increases to inflation therefore accomplishes two goals: It punishes drivers for daring to try to save money by driving tiny, fuel-sipping econoboxes and it frees cowardly legislators from having to stand up and be counted to raise the gas tax again.
Drivers who enjoy a cigarette on their way to and from work must feel doubly put upon. Smokers are the ripest target available to tax-happy legislators, as few will rise to defend them. The hike raises the cigarette tax to $3.51 per pack of 20, the second highest rate in the nation after New York’s $4.35 per pack.
Legislators also showed little concern for the state’s anemic job market. The application of the sales tax to computer and software services will cost the state’s employers an additional $500 million per year, according to estimates from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Massachusetts is a leader in computer services; taxing a growth industry undermines the state’s competitive advantages. The tax will cut into profits in virtually every industry in the state, as those businesses are the primary customers for computer and software services. It is inevitable that jobs will be lost.
While propping up the moribund MBTA amounts to throwing good money after bad, it is clear to anyone who drives that the state’s roads and highways are in need of repair. But rather than prudently planning for and managing these repairs responsibly, legislators simply fell back on an old habit — another money grab from the taxpayers.
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, argued that the tax hike was not necessary as state tax collection for the last fiscal year exceeded estimates by more than $600 million. His argument fell on deaf ears.
Legislators could have had their transportation funds and lived within the state’s means, just as individual families must do. Instead, they chose to conduct another raid on the wallets of the state’s unfortunate residents.
Perhaps some day, voters will understand the need to maintain a balance among the two parties on Beacon Hill. Until then, they can expect the Democratic-dominated Legislature to pick their pockets with impunity.