and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
June #4

Fixing roads or making babies, taxpayers pay the tab
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, June 26, 2008

As a taxpayer activist, I should probably write about the coalition of unions, business and civic groups who are now urging the Legislature to get moving on an increase in the gas tax to fix Massachusetts bridges and roads. OK.

The Transportation Finance Commission released its recommendations last year, and it did support an increase in the gas tax. However, its chairman, Romney appointee Stephen Silveira, made it clear that first there must be major reforms to prevent the new money from being misspent and wasted as is the case currently which is why our infrastructure is in such disrepair.

So far, no reforms: The salaries and benefits, lack of managerial oversight, savings to be had by using civilian flagmen instead of police details, and diversion of gas tax revenues to other state projects have not been addressed. And the unions, business interests and civic groups think that legislators are going to vote for a gas tax increase with the price at the pump heading for $5 a gallon?

Massachusetts voters put up with a lot. But there is a general understanding that the natives may be finally getting restless. Many have signed the petition to repeal the income tax, after all. So a gas tax increase is not going to happen. So now what will we talk about?

How about Gov. Patrick's education initiative? Some good things there: He too seems to recognize that the teachers unions are the problem in education and is finding new ways to bypass their self-serving power in the interests of the children.

Merit pay for teaching difficult subjects is a great idea. But I'm disappointed that the cap on charter schools is not going to be lifted, since choice in an educational free market is the only long-term solution. However, the full report was not available as of this writing, so I am waiting to see how the governor plans to pay for, well, any of his ideas, good or bad.

For example, there's the billion-dollar biotech subsidy bill.

Where within our already high tax burden are we getting the money to subsidize investments that are, by definition, risky? (Otherwise, the private sector would be standing in line to invest in these ideas itself.)

Of course, we want them to invest here in Massachusetts, where we are already subsidizing the movie business. (Remember when some elements of the business community wanted taxpayers to subsidize our sports teams?)

But don't investors hesitate when they notice that the state infrastructure isn't properly maintained and repaired? And aren't investors who are hoping to get rich concerned about the governor's candidate for president, who wants to raise taxes on "the rich"?

Massachusetts' history of erratically changing the capital gains tax must give them pause, as well. Not to mention the ongoing, burdensome business regulation, unemployment and workmen's compensation costs.

I'm trying to avoid thinking about the subject of the day the Gloucester High School pregnancies. But it's interesting: A high school principal deplores a baby pact, and the next thing you know, he, the school and the city are an international curiosity. I think this is a good sign that the free-media world in general still has some standards that allow it to be shocked by something. Of course, we can also be shocked that the school and city's response was to try to discredit the principal.

I imagine that girls who deliberately get pregnant today, alone or in groups, don't have the imagination to see how good their lives could become if they gave themselves a chance to achieve other goals first. Girls with options are more likely to get pregnant by accident, while trying to please some guy. That desire to please, or the other wrong reasons for risking premarital sex, used to be offset by the shame that society tossed at unwed mothers.

There are many reasons that shame has left the building today, and as a creature of the 1960s I am probably responsible for some of them. But most are related to the No. 1 societal problem: Personal responsibility is no longer a priority. Sex education without it is useless this seems to have been the point that the principal was making, that the Gloucester problem isn't that girls weren't taught how to avoid pregnancy. However, a program worth funding is the one in which girls "adopt" a real baby for a period of time in order to learn how much work and loss of freedom is involved.

Babies born to irresponsible parents, young or older ones, are always a problem for taxpayers. We don't want to encourage more of them by picking up the burden, but what else can you do? The babies must be cared for, and taking children away from the parent(s) except for severe neglect and abuse, is a scary power to give the government. I've never found an answer to this dilemma.

So society must do everything it can to discourage the irresponsible behavior, including enforcing statutory rape laws when young girls are involved. We should also place teenage pregnancy in the category of other taboos like drugs, drunken driving and tobacco, so that girls who make this premature choice begin to feel as foolish as they certainly are.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.