The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission
9-cents-a-gallon increase in the state gas tax to fix our roads and
Thank you, Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission, for all the
time you spent "studying" the state infrastructure and for sharing your
opinion. Here is my response: "No!"
Now go away, as other Boston business-backed commissions, with their
"connected" Boston business leaders that recommend tax hikes on
middle-class working people, have gone away. We middle-class working
people outnumber you, and have more votes to deliver to legislators.
Last year at this time, another Boston business group, known as the
Hamill Commission for its chairman, former Sovereign Bank CEO John
Hamill, recommended increasing the auto excise and the local meals tax.
We said, "No, go away." And it did.
Of course, it helps when we have a governor who will veto any new taxes.
The Legislature is happy to override spending vetoes and reforms, but
the required two-thirds roll-call vote can still be a deterrent to a tax
It's interesting to me that the "no new taxes" pledge is a clear signal
to the Legislature, but not to the business leaders on these
commissions. Politicians understand that another politician who has
taken the pledge cannot break it; business leaders don't understand
Is this how they run their businesses? A promise means nothing? How
about a handshake?
Follow me back through my institutional memory, which kicked in when I
saw the name of the Transportation Finance Commission member who is
actively recommending the gas tax increase. Harold Hestnes is described
as a "longtime Republican civic leader" as in, "even Republicans know we
need this tax hike," which is meant to give cover to Democrats.
In November 1990, the headline read, "Weld adviser weighs limited tax
hike." Hestnes was Bill Weld's law partner at Hale & Dorr during his
first run for governor in 1990. One week after Weld won, pledging "no
new taxes" to the entire commonwealth, Hestnes suggested a tax increase
package that would repeal the Dukakis sales tax on business and
professional services and increase the general sales tax from 5 percent
to 6 percent.
With considerable popular support, Weld did get the sales tax on
services repealed, but said "no" to the sales tax increase. To the best
of my recollection, Hestnes wasn't heard from again on tax policy -
Go away again, Harold. And please, this time take the
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation - which WRKO's Scott Allen Miller
calls the "Massachusetts Taxhike Foundation" - with you. Its
executive director, Michael Widmer, was on the Hamill Commission and is
presently on the Transportation Finance Commission. MTF set up the
gas-tax recommendation by releasing a report last week about the dire
condition of the commonwealth's roads, bridges and transit systems.
My institutional memory knows something about that alleged dire
condition. When the Big Dig was first proposed, the Massachusetts
Municipal Association and others asked if its cost would divert money
from other state infrastructure projects. The Dukakis administration
said it would not.
We were told that since the federal government was paying 90 percent of
the project's cost, the state could easily handle the other 10 percent
without hurting other state roads and bridges. The concerns of those of
us who argued that the feds' 90 percent contribution wasn't certain were
And then the Big Dig ended up sucking up all the local infrastructure
money after all. The feds got fed up and cut back on their share of the
cost. And, according to this MTF report, local roads and bridges have
The Romney administration instituted its "Fix It First" program in 2003,
which has increased the capital allotment for non-Big Dig projects from
$600 million then to $900 million today - without lifting the bond cap
that MTF wants lifted. Banks like loaning money to the state, whose
taxpayers back up the loans.
Read on and learn, Big Business. The present state gas tax is already
above the national average. The money is supposed to be used for highway
maintenance, but in reality is often diverted. The Dukakis
10-cents-a-gallon increase in 1990 was used to reduce the state's
operating deficit. Politicians deliberately defer maintenance, figuring
that if they are short of money for their own pet projects, they have
"the infrastructure excuse" to raise taxes. And you guys fall for it
Further, Massachusetts is one of the few states in the nation that has
an auto excise, which is supposed to be used to maintain roads. How do
other states have better roads than ours when we have all these taxes?
Frank Conte, director of communications at the
Institute, argues that we should place the proposed gas tax in the
context of government's incompetence.
"This" he says, "is the equivalent of the fable of the boy who murders
his parents and asks clemency as an orphan." The state kills its local
infrastructure, then wants merciful taxpayers to let it off the hook.
No. Or at least, the answer will be "no" until Massachusetts voters are
foolish enough to elect a governor who hasn't taken the "no new taxes"
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown
Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence [RI] Journal and