Arrogance in Beantown

Lest we forget, before he was governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick served on the board of Ameriquest, a firm known for making enormous profits through predatory lending. Patrick continues to feed little fish to the big fish, as the soon-to-enacted near doubling of the gasoline tax proves.

Massachusetts will soon have the highest gasoline tax in America, a whopping 42 cents per gallon. But if you think it’s to defray the commonwealth’s budget woes, think again. More than half of the increase is an avoidance measure aimed at not having to raise tolls and fees that apply to a single segment of Massachusetts society: those who live in or commute into Boston. Gee, we wouldn’t to make those who actually use the services pay for them, would we? No—let’s soak everyone instead. Of the remaining 16 cents, a mere three pennies has any chance whatsoever of being used outside west or south of Route 128, the ring road that encircles Boston.

Patrick’s toll-increase aversion scam is the exact opposite of what he should be doing. If he had the leadership skills and the moxie to take the long view, he’d support higher tolls in and around Boston as a way to insure the health of strapped public transportation systems. Want to keep Boston’s subways, commuter trains, and buses profitable? Increase their ridership. Take a page out of London, England’s book, where it costs a small fortune to drive a private vehicle into the city. The consequence is that most people don’t do so, and those who can’t or won’t break the habit pay dearly for the privilege. Boston should follow suit. Jack up the fees, take all the money from tolls collected inside Route 128, and earmark them for mass transit.

But the more distressing problem is the elitism implicit in the governor’s thinking.
He arrogantly likes to pretend that a gasoline tax is a non-discriminating user fee, but it’s a regressive tax for those without access to public transportation, which is pretty much everyone outside of Boston. The gas tax will make it even harder for unemployed Commonwealth residents to search for work, and it will take a substantial bite out of the budgets of those already struggling to make ends meet.

There are other revenue options a strong leader willing to take on the moribund legislature could promote: increasing liquor and tobacco taxes; luxury taxes on private boats, gas- guzzling vehicles, second homes, and undeveloped property; granting home rule to municipalities to allow them to enact rooms and meals taxes; and reconfiguring the formula by which high-income earners are taxed. But, Deval Patrick betrays the worst of two worlds: an elitist mentality coupled with amateurish administrative skills.

Disclaimer: I voted for him. Promise: Never again.

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