Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
February 2000 #1

Politicians Target Speeders,
Big Tobacco, Other Minorities

by Barbara Anderson

To those who do not follow politics closely, acts by legislators may seem random, even chaotic. But if one stands back to view the results, one sees a pattern made up of political necessity.

For example: the Speeding Ticket Surcharge, which showed up suddenly on the public radar late last month, having been quietly passed as part of the very late state budget very late last year. Governor Cellucci vetoed it, and the Legislature overrode his veto, so it's now the law.

The Speeding Ticket Surcharge of $25.00 will be used to treat head injuries, on the assumption that head injuries are caused by speeding, which some of them may well be. Spinal cord injuries could also be caused by speeding, so another bill has been approved by a legislative committee for another $5.00 surcharge on speeding tickets to create a Spinal Cord Injury Research Board.

If you speeders out there are beginning to mentally list the other injuries that might conceivably be caused by speeding, you are beginning to realize that those fines could easily take up a lot of your disposable income every time you get caught. You might want to never drive again, since the alternative to speeding is often to cause road rage in the drivers behind you.

Perhaps we could have a surcharge on reckless driving tickets to pay for all injuries to anyone who is a victim of any kind of rage because that is where the pattern goes. It began with the tobacco settlement, in which the tobacco companies were forced to reimburse the states for Medicaid costs. Flush with victory and a giant share of the settlement, government lawyers began planning to sue firearms manufacturers for the medical costs associated with gunshot wounds.

These two assumptions of guilt were particularly strange since both tobacco companies and firearms manufacturers are making a legal product. There may be a tad more logic in a speeding fine to help accident victims since at least speeding is illegal. This logic, however, is incidental to the pattern: inevitably, producers of alcoholic beverages will be forced to pay for liver transplants and fast food consumers, for heart disease expenditures.

Hiking gear retailers should pay for the lost productivity of people who fall off mountains or get eaten by bears. Florists, dairy farmers and pet stores should contribute to a fund for allergy research, since they sell products that can cause irritation in sensitive people.

Why stop with manufacturers? Users of these products just encourage more production, and should pay a surcharge on their purchase.

In fact, why stop anywhere? Excuse us, and fine us, for living: we are all in this vale of potential injury together. Ah, but that would be a tax and politicians would have to impose it on all of us, angering a possible majority of constituents at one time. Now you see the pattern, and now you see the cause.

Massachusetts citizens are taxed more than enough. As Governor Paul Cellucci said in his recent state of the state address, our per capita tax burden is the 5th highest in the  nation. And because he has taken the no new taxes pledge, any attempt to increase that burden will need a 2/3 vote to override his veto.

It is much easier to override a veto of an obscure outside section of the state budget, which is over four months late and contains pages of items that the media must peruse and publicize. All attention was on the general size of the budget, the prominent education issue, and the small tax cuts: no one but the Governor seemed to care about the surcharge. He may have been reluctant to call it to everyone's attention, since Senate President Birmingham would have accused him of not caring about head-injured people and he was aware of how well this demagoguery worked with the education issue.

So Cellucci quietly vetoed, the Legislature quietly overrode, and speeders are now charged another $25.00 on top of the previous charge of $50.00 and up, along with the insurance surcharges. Well, that'll teach them to drive too fast.

Actually, anyone who injures another party while breaking the speeding laws should pay the medical expenses of the injured person. But according to Ivan Sever of the National Motorists Association, "'excessive speed" causes very few accidents and deaths on the highways. "Inattention, inexperience, poor observation, lack of mechanical maintenance, faulty judgment and low driving skills is what causes many accidents."

So let's have a fine for inattention and faulty judgment while passing legislation. The money could go into a fund to research why politicians are always lying about the true cost of public works projects like the Big Dig; but that's another column.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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