and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November 2004 #3

Look in the mirror for culprits in Big Dig's latest mess
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, November 18, 2004

It's another "perfect storm," this time also known as the Big Dig.

Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor have all come together in a conspiracy to wreak havoc on state and national taxpayers. 

Some fear that it could sink if not the ship of state then a fair number of its automobiles and citizens when enough water pours into the Big Dig's tunnels via their myriad leaks. 

More likely, we taxpayers will be slowly drowning in fees and taxes to cover the cost of the repairs, on top of the cost of the Big Dig itself, which as of this date is $14.6 billion. To put that amount in perspective: It's roughly $3 for every year that Earth has been in existence.

During those many years since this planet was formed, man evolved leaving the sea to crawl and hide from dinosaurs in caves and burrows, eventually walking upright and taking possession of the land. With the Big Dig, he (and the traffic he sits in) crawls back underground and perhaps, on a bad leak day, will return to the sea. Honey, where did I put my gills?

Someone asked me what we citizens can do. Can we file a class-action suit?

Against whom? Against almost everyone, including ourselves for electing most of the people responsible?

Start with Gov. Mike Dukakis. He insisted in 1987 that the project would cost $2.6 billion. Nobody mentioned inflation adjustments, though advocates later pretended they thought that was understood. With inflation, the cost might have doubled, but certainly wouldn't adjust to $14.6 billion. The difference is what we call "every special interest group's piece of the action."

It also includes "unforeseen circumstances" like environmental issues, neighborhood mitigation, lawsuits and contractor error. When responsible groups suggested in 1987 that such added expenses could be expected in a project of this size, the Dukakis administration and its allies scoffed at the warnings and stuck to their estimates.

Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy pushed through federal support over President Reagan's veto. The Democratic Congress, with the help of some Republicans, overrode it. The victory was announced at a local press conference that included both Senators Kennedy and Kerry.

"It's been a team effort in every sense of the word," said Dukakis.

Massachusetts voters continued to elect Kennedy and Kerry, and wanted both the latter and the aforementioned Dukakis to become president of the United States. They also elect the legislators whose pandering to construction unions guarantees that the costs will be much higher than they would be if nonunion competition were allowed.

The Massachusetts Legislature made sure that the project was run by an independent authority so its members could not be held responsible when the perfect storm hit. 

Governor Mitt Romney asked voters this fall to send him some reform legislators so his elected administration could take over the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, but the voters refused. They prefer to ensure that their governor has no power to enact reforms.

Not that other Republican governors took responsibility for the Big Dig. Weld, Cellucci and Swift, instead of expressing horror over what the Democrats had created and trying to wrest control from the Turnpike Authority and contractor Bechtel, adopted the project so its ongoing errors could have bipartisan parentage.

OK, when in doubt sue everyone. I asked the obvious question: Who is going to pay for this class-action suit? Someone suggested asking a lawyer to do it pro bono.

Here, I'll help: I'll write the ad: "Wanted, country lawyer to sue Big Government, Big Business and Big Labor. While you are preparing briefs to go up against the Turnpike and Bechtel's hundreds of in-house legal staff, union members will probably be picketing your house and scaring your wife and kids. And by the way, we can't afford to pay you."

Another suggestion was to hold a nationwide competition for the funniest joke about the Big Dig project, since getting the country's attention "might inspire change." 

Good idea. Have I told you the one about the 400 leaks ... ?

When feeling temporary outrage, many people want to do an initiative petition on the offending issue. In 1989 a petition was filed to address the Big Dig funding and make state government face the inevitable managerial problems before they got out of control. Big Boston Business went to court to stop it, and opposed lowering taxes and fees that fund the unmanageable spending. Voters rejected two initiative petitions on this subject.

I recently figured it out, when our 2004 election followed the Red Sox victory. The last time the Red Sox won was 1918, the same year that the initiative petition process was made part of the Massachusetts Constitution. Legislators recently assaulted that process by ignoring or repealing voter-passed laws. All of them were re-elected.

So I finally understood: Massachusetts voters are like Red Sox fans, accustomed to losing. When they surrendered that familiar 86-year tradition in baseball, they clung even tighter to it in politics. And when the perfect storm of Big Dig institutions fully converges on Bay State citizens, they will accelerate their complaints while refusing, no matter how much water it's taking on, to abandon the sinking ship manned by those politicians they know so well.

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