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Thursday, January 25, 2018

It Tolls for Thee — Again

An after-action debrief by Chip Faulkner
Communications Director

Chip Faulkner's CLT Commentary

It seemed like only yesterday.  Actually it was exactly three months since I last testified against a bill expanding tolls onto more highways in Massachusetts.  But there I was, testifying once again, against a bill proposing more toll roads in the Bay State, again.  This bill, S.1987, sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) was eerily similar to the one proposed last year by then Senator McGee (D-Lynn).  Yep, it was like “Groundhog Day” appearing before the same Joint Committee on Transportation in the same location deep in the bowels of the State House.

Apparently the committee had forgotten the arguments I had presented last October 24th, so I had to hit them on the head (apologies to the Gronk) with these same arguments again.  My testimony included a recitation of expenses already incurred by motorists.  There’s the sales tax on purchase of a car, annual auto excise, driver’s license fees, vehicle registration, inspection fees and tolls.  The Legislature added three cents per gallon to the gas tax in 2013 for our enjoyment.

I pointed out that motorists don’t care for added taxes and/or tolls as evidenced by their behavior in 2014.  That year Massachusetts voters defeated, on the ballot, a proposal to tie any increase in the gas tax to inflation automatically — with no roll call vote needed by the Legislature.  The folks pushing for a “No” vote on this tax increase were outspent 30-to-1 by special interest big-spenders and still won!

Using statistics gleaned from the Reason Foundation’s 22nd Annual Highway Report, we found that Massachusetts spends far more on highways, bridges, etc. than the national average on each state-controlled mile.  For example, on maintenance disbursements the national average is $25,996 per mile while Massachusetts spends $78,313. On administrative disbursements the national average is $10,051 per mile, while Massachusetts comes in at an astounding seven times higher figure of $74,924.  The most irritating aspect of these revelations:  the committee didn’t appear to be disturbed by these statistics whatsoever, or even interested.

The other bill that received our attention was H.1828.  Its description in a nutshell:  a task force would study ways to impose a “user fee that is based on the number of miles traveled on roads in this state by those motor vehicles.”  Immediately I described this as a “Big Brother” move reminiscent of a page from Orwell’s “1984.”  The sponsors had the audacity to state in one section of the bill that it would “…ensure drivers’ privacy…”  Orwellian double-speak at its finest!  "How is this even remotely possible when the state is tracking every one of your miles driven?" I asked the committee!  The CLT News Release captures this bill’s essence perfectly:  quoting the musical group The Police,Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.

As usual, I received no questions from the committee — not one — carrying on a tradition similar to several committees I testified before last year.  I’ll say one thing for this Transportation Committee.  Of the twenty committee members, half of them showed up for this hearing — 10 out of 20.  Believe it or not, this represents a high attendance rate compared to most of the committees I’ve appeared before in the last few years.  I guess maybe the no-shows were doing other things to justify the obscene $18 million dollar pay hike they voted for themselves last year.

Chip Faulkner
Communications Director


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