Chip Ford's CLT Commentary
Oh boy, bend over and prepare to have your wallets
picked again -- big gas tax and toll hikes are on the horizon. If
it isn't outright taxes it's fees; and if it isn't fees it's tolls.
But the attacks on our income never diminish. More Is Never Enough
(MINE) under whatever the latest guise.
The State has "unmet needs." The State has
"deferred maintenance." The State needs more from us, always more,
more more. None of us apparently have unmet needs or deferred
maintenance -- just bottomless pockets for The State to pick.
We're just rolling in cash, have unlimited resources for The State to
tap, while It has limited resources because of our "selfishness" --
despite a budget that has doubled in the last decade, every cent
collected from our hard work and earnings.
More Is Never Enough, and never will be.
Let me ask again: What have we been paying
income tax, auto excise tax, auto sales tax, gas tax, registry fees, and
tolls to maintain? Apparently very little, we're learning.
Very little. Now that Beacon Hill has squandered those billions
over the decades -- admitting it belatedly, like some sort of
consolation -- it's back for more during its self-created latest crisis.
How about this other new proposal by the
"independent" Transportation Finance Commission -- which includes
Michael Widmer of the so-called Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation and
his bloodsucker fat-cat ilk -- to mandate that we all have GPS
transponders installed in our vehicles? That alone scares me more
Do you want to provide The State with the capability
of tracking you every moment you're driving? "Every breath you
take; Every move you make; Every bond you break; Every step you take;
Ill be watching you." are the lyrics in The Police's top hit, "Every
breath you take." We're getting closer . . . Big Brother, The
State, is moving in on us.
That's one of the Commission's recommendations,
mandating that we install GPS tracking transponders in our cars and
trucks so The State can charge us by actual miles driven!
Meanwhile, Gov. Patrick is close to approving
gambling casinos in Massachusetts -- and why not? Gambling is
happening, but all around the Bay State. Folks from New Hampshire,
Vermont and Massachusetts are trekking down to Connecticut and dropping
millions and millions which the Nutmeg State is raking in. The
money is being spent, somewhere -- it's just not being spent in Puritan
Naturally here in the People's Republic nothing much
good will come of any windfall revenues, I don't care how many millions,
even billions. It'll all just be absorbed then squandered as the
enlightened among us have come to expect like sunrise in the east.
But at least the additional hundreds of millions blown on "unmet needs"
will come from a voluntary source, not from our pockets, yet.
I wonder why both of these long-running studies
abruptly are being release on the same day? I wonder if there's
some connection . . .
"Do the reforms first"? Right, don't hold your
breath. Abolish police details? Not on your life with a
spineless Legislature. Merge state highways with the turnpike and
MassPort? What to do with all those politically-connected
Reforms first. That's always a good slogan.
I'll believe reforms when I see them for the first time. They will
NEVER happen in our lifetime or those of our children without us
fighting for them -- before "the only option" is to raise taxes and
Not this time.
Stand up, scream. Don't let them get away with
this proposed pillage.
Or bend over . . .
Sunday September 16, 2007
Long anticipated report to recommend
higher gas tax, highway fees
By Steve LeBlanc
A long-anticipated report on the state's transportation woes is
recommending a hefty increase in the gas tax and new highway user fees
as part of the solution to a gaping $15 to $19 billion hole in the
state's transportation spending over the next 20 years.
The recommendations -- including the 11.5 cent per gallon increase in
the gas tax -- are designed in part to spark a debate on the best way
for the state to bring in the extra money needed to maintain its aging
network of roads, bridges and rails.
Critics say that before the state even considers a gas tax hike -- or a
proposed 5 cent per mile highway user fee -- it must first approve a
series of non-tax changes also suggested in the report, including
rolling back the MBTA's pension plan, which gives employees full pension
benefits, including free health insurance, after 23 years of service.
"I think any taxpayer would be a fool to allow a tax increase without
the reforms because that would be a guarantee that the reforms are never
done," said Barbara Anderson of the anti-tax group Citizens
for Limited Taxation.
Under the plan, set to be unveiled Monday, the gas tax would increase
from 23.5 cents to 35 cents a gallon, two sources familiar with the
report told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the
report had not been officially released.
The last time the tax was increased was in 1990.
The increase is expected to generate billions, but the increase could
drop off as more drivers purchase hybrid cars or other energy efficient
Rather than propose new toll booths, the report by the Transportation
Finance Commission recommends the state impose highway user fees --
charging motorists five cents for ever mile they travel on highways in
The fee would require the state to track how often a car is on a highway
and for what distance and then bill the driver directly -- using
technology similar to the transponders that allow cars to travel along
the Massachusetts Turnpike without stopping to pay tolls.
Other proposals in the plan include:
-- Studying the privatization of some roads and bridges;
-- Eliminating paid police details on road and bridge construction
projects, replacing them with civilian flagmen;
-- Scaling back the MBTA's pension benefits;
-- Transferring the Tobin Bridge from the Massachusetts Port Authority
to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
Many of the proposals are likely to cause a backlash.
Police unions have fought off every past attempt to eliminate the paid
police details -- a coveted perk. MBTA unions have put up an equally
stiff fight at the mention of pension changes -- even as the
cash-strapped agency has been forced to raise fares as it struggle to
Massport has also resisted proposals to strip its control of the Tobin,
which could force the agency to increase fees at Logan International
The report is guaranteed to cause a stir on Beacon Hill. Gov. Deval
Patrick says he's skeptical about toll hikes but his Transportation
Secretary Bernard Cohen has acknowledged the need for new transportation
revenue and said the administration is exploring whether to hand over
some roads and bridges to private companies.
"I expect we will have a robust dialogue over the next six months,"
Cohen said after a recent Statehouse hearing on the state's
Before even talking about raising the gas tax or imposing new highway
fees, officials should prove they've wrung as much money out of reforms
first, Anderson said.
"First do a bill with all the reforms and then let's come back and talk
about the gas tax increase," she said. "There are a lot of reforms
mentioned in the report."
The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Major hike in gas tax, fees urged
Mass. panel's plan would raise $20b
By Andrea Estes
A special state commission looking for ways to keep the state's roads
and rail systems from falling into disrepair will recommend that the
state raise the gasoline tax by 11.5 cents a gallon next year and impose
a "user fee" of 5 cents a mile to drive on major state highways,
according to an outline of the panel's recommendations.
The Transportation Finance Commission, appointed by the Legislature in
2004, is expected to make its recommendations public tomorrow. It
predicted earlier this year that unless costs are cut and revenues
increased, the state's transportation agencies will face a deficit of
$15 billion to $19 billion over the next 20 years.
To close the gap, the commission is proposing a package of tolls and
taxes that would generate more than $20 billion.
The proposals promise to be controversial and will probably face fierce
opposition. The recommendations, some of which have been floated before
and rejected, would have to be approved by Governor Deval Patrick and
the Legislature, which traditionally have been reluctant to hit
motorists with new taxes and tolls.
According to a summary of the recommendations, the commission will
recommend a gas tax increase of 49 percent in 2008, from 23.5 cents to
35 cents a gallon. In future years, the tax would be boosted annually to
reflect higher costs of living. The gas tax has remained the same since
Gas tax hikes could generate $12 billion to $18 billion in revenue, the
panel says. But the gas tax carries a drawback for those looking for new
revenue. Over time, collections will decline as hybrid cars and new
technologies reduce gas consumption.
To blunt the impact of declining gas tax revenues, according to the
panel's outline, the state should impose a system of "direct road user
fees" -- also known as mileage taxes -- similar to those under study by
some other states, including Oregon and Colorado. With such fees,
motorists would be charged for every mile they drive on all major state
roadways -- not just the Massachusetts Turnpike -- using technology that
allows the state to track their mileage and bill them automatically.
According to the commission, such fees could bring in more than $5
The summary of the commission's recommendations does not contain precise
details of how such a system would work in Massachusetts. In Oregon, a
pilot program tracks the total miles motorists drive using global
positioning devices installed in their vehicles. When they fill up with
gas, sensors at the service station download the mileage and levy a fee
on top of the charge for the gas.
Consumers with the GPS devices are exempted from the Oregon gas tax;
people without a GPS unit continue to pay the gas tax.
The commission will also suggest that the state explore privatizing its
roadways and bridges as another way to raise revenue.
Besides measures that could make money, the commission will propose 22
changes that could save money, $2 billion over the next 20 years.
It will recommend eliminating paid police details on the state's road
and bridge projects. The use of flagmen, instead of police, to patrol
public construction projects could save up to $100 million, the
Paid police details has been one of the most jealously guarded of all
police perks and police unions have successfully blocked every effort on
Beacon Hill to eliminate the practice.
The commission will also recommend other money-saving measures including
scaling back the MBTA employees' lucrative health and retirement
benefits, described by the commission as "the most generous in the
The report cites the pension plan, which allows MBTA employees to retire
with a full pension after 23 years of service, and the health insurance
plan, which gives workers free health insurance after they retire.
At a time when the MBTA is struggling to pay its bills and has been
forced to raise fares three times over the past six years, specialists
have said the state can no longer afford to pay such benefits.
In addition, the commission will recommend transferring ownership and
operation of the Tobin Bridge from the Massachusetts Port Authority to
the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, making it part of the Metropolitan
Highway System -- which comprises the Turnpike extension, the Sumner,
Callahan, and Ted Williams tunnels and the roadways in the Big Dig.
Massport has resisted previous efforts to transfer the Tobin Bridge,
which is a moneymaker for the transportation agency. The $27 million in
revenue generated by the bridge would help the Turnpike Authority pay
its bills, but such a move would likely force Massport to increase fees
at Logan International Airport.
When the idea surfaced last year, Massport spokeswoman Danny Levy said
"The Tobin Bridge is such an integral part of the Massport's bonding and
financial structure, and . . . to put such a proposal into effect would
be hugely complicated and unnecessary. If it is not broken, why fix it?"
The Legislature created the Transportation Finance Commission two years
ago, directing it to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the state's
transportation needs over the next two decades and to find ways to shore
up the state's crumbling roads and bridges without a legislative
Headed by Stephen Silveira, an appointee of former governor Mitt Romney,
the 13-member board also includes former state transportation secretary
Kevin Sullivan; Alan MacDonald, executive director of the Massachusetts
Business Roundtable; and Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA
In March, the commission issued its first report, concluding that the
state's transportation agencies are facing such a severe funding crisis
that without a significant infusion of new revenue they will not have
enough money for basic maintenance and repairs.
At the time several members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on
Transportation Committee questioned the findings, saying that similar
dire predictions in the past have not come true.
The Boston Globe
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Patrick to offer 3-casino plan
By Frank Phillips
Governor Deval Patrick plans to propose as early as tomorrow that the
state sell licenses for three full-scale resort casinos in
Massachusetts, citing their potential to spur economic growth, create
jobs, and generate new government revenue, according to State House
officials who have been briefed on his plan.
Patrick will recommend that the casinos be licensed in three regions:
Southeastern Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts, and an area that
includes Boston and points north, the officials said. His announcement
will mark the culmination of months of study and the end of a long
stretch of public silence on the subject of legalized gaming.
All three licenses would be put up for competitive bid, in a process
that is expected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in immediate
and direct state revenue, the officials said.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe would have to outbid other
competitors if it wishes to quickly proceed with its plans for a
resort-style casino in Middleborough, the officials said. If the tribe
decides against seeking a state license or fails to receive one in the
bidding process, it could still proceed with a longer, more arduous
federal approval process that could result in a fourth Massachusetts
The governor will not recommend allowing slot machines at the state's
financially struggling horse and dog tracks, the officials said, a
decision which is sure to set off protests and a major lobbying push in
the Legislature from the politically powerful track operators.
The officials agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity because
the governor had yet to make his announcement.
Only part of Patrick's proposal was outlined yesterday by the officials,
and key details -- including how much new cash the state could expect
and how many jobs Patrick administration officials believe the three
casinos will create -- were withheld.
In other states with licensed casinos, initial license fees have
generated hundreds of millions of dollars, and states garner hundreds of
millions more each year in their share of gambling proceeds.
The officials who have been briefed on Patrick's plan said the governor
will justify his decision to embrace casinos with the same arguments
made by gambling proponents: that licensed casino gambling will create
thousands of new jobs, spur growth in travel and tourism, and provide
the state with a key stream of new revenue to augment income and sales
Patrick will argue that the casino resorts will be an important part of
a larger economic development program, which includes a $1 billion life
science initiative, an aggressive renewable energy program, and a $1.5
billion capital spending plan.
"The governor is saying that this is an important part of his overall
economic strategy to ensure he meets his goal for economic activity and
create 100,000 new jobs over the next four years," one of the officials
According to the officials, Patrick, in framing the arguments to back
his endorsement of expanded gambling, will tout the potential economic
benefits to the state more than the financial benefits to the fiscally
strapped state government.
But the lure to state budgeters is clear: Patrick and other leaders are
searching for billions of dollars needed to repair bridges and roads,
improve education, and provide cities and towns with property tax
When Patrick presents his plan, which is scheduled to be tomorrow, his
announcement will be seen as a political watershed for his
The announcement will also mark the beginning of a new stage of the
casino debate, one that will focus increasingly on the Legislature,
which will be required to approve the governor's plan if it is to move
House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi is publicly opposed to casinos while
Senate President Therese Murray is among gambling's key supporters.
A move into gambling could dramatically alter the market for gambling
throughout the region and set off new competition. Proponents have
contended that Massachusetts is in a good position to pick up casino
revenue that is currently going to Connecticut, where there are two
large casinos that attract legions of Massachusetts gamblers and others
from throughout New England.
In making his decision to endorse casino resorts, Patrick will be going
against many of his close political allies and a good chunk of his
Democratic base, including liberals who see gambling as a regressive tax
that takes money from those in the lower income brackets to ease the
financial burdens of the more affluent.
Those critics, including House leaders, say the financial gains are
illusory. They say expanded gambling would create social problems and
will hook state political leaders and Beacon Hill budget writers on
gambling revenues, while providing few long-term economic benefits. They
also say that expanding gambling with Las Vegas-like resorts will change
the historic and cultural character of Massachusetts forever.
But a recent study said that there is $1.5 billion in annual unmet
market demand for gambling.
A line of pent-up casino proposals bears out the assertion that market
forces favor gambling.
The Mashpee Wampanoags have proposed a $1 billion casino in
Middleborough, estimating their facility alone could generate up to $200
million to $250 million a year in additional state revenue.
Other gambling interests, including another Wampanoag tribe from
Martha's Vineyard, the owners of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut,
and Suffolk Downs race track in Boston, are also vying for casino
Billionaire casino developer Sheldon Adelson is talking with legislative
leaders about a casino on Interstate 495 where it intersects with the
Patrick faces a difficult task in persuading DiMasi, a longtime opponent
of expanded gambling, to switch his position, according to senior Beacon
Hill figures. The House has consistently, and by wide margins, defeated
pro-casino and increased gaming plans over the last decade.
As Patrick studied the issue this summer, DiMasi made statements that
have led many to suspect that he is softening his position. His press
aide, David Guarino, said late last week that the speaker is keeping an
open mind to any arguments that Patrick makes for casinos.
But those who have talked to DiMasi privately in recent weeks come away
with the clear impression that his opposition to expanded gambling
remains firm and that his comments were made in deference to Patrick.
"It will take a lot of convincing to bring the speaker around," said one
senior legislative official.
On the other side, gambling has galvanized proponents who think it will
give the state an important economic boost.
"At the end of the day, you would have $400 million to $450 million a
year in new revenue," said Senate Ways and Means chairman Steven C.
Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, referring to the state's projected take
from the three proposed casinos.
He said the money would go a long way toward helping the state pay to
repair roads and crumbling bridges, and offer property tax relief to
"It is not going to solve all our problems, but will go a long way in
helping us deal with them," he said.
The Boston Herald
Monday, September 17, 2007
Pike board to vote on toll hike
Transportation report to present costly options
Faced with imploding finances, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority
today is expected to vote on proposals to jack up highway tolls to as
much as $1.75 inside Route 128 and $6 at the Sumner and Ted Williams
Tunnels, sources told the Herald.
The Turnpike’s board will be presented with four options today for
increasing the tolls to balance the authority’s finances, with the
smallest increase raising about $24 million in additional revenue and
the largest generating more than $100 million.
The vote coincides with the release of recommendations by a separate
transportation panel that will call for a sharp hike in the gas tax,
increased rush-hour tolls and the exploration of new tolls on Interstate
93 and other highways. Those recommendations, first reported by the
Herald, are being put forward to close a $19 billion deficit in
For Mass Pike drivers, a significant toll increase is inevitable by
January 2008. Today’s vote will focus only on tolls on the Metropolitan
Highway System, which encompasses toll booths inside Route 128 at Weston
and Allston, and at the Sumner and Ted Williams Tunnels.
The toll increase could be as little as 25 cents at Allston and Weston,
where it is currently $1, and 50 cents at the tunnels, where drivers pay
However, Turnpike officials have said the money generated by such an
increase -- about $24 million - would not be enough to cover borrowing
costs associated with the Big Dig.
Board members have indicated they are likely to support the higher
increases for both Fast Lane and cash transactions at the toll booths,
although some have voiced strong opposition to such a move.
Asked about the four options, board member Mary Connaughton said none of
them adequately addresses the unfairness faced by Metro West commuters.
“This only intensifies the inequity of the Big Dig cost burden for
drivers west of the city,” she said. “I would like to see proposals that
shift more of the burden on tunnel traffic and commercial vehicles to
minimize that impact.”
Connaughton suggested she may call to postpone today’s vote, saying the
board needs more time to digest toll changes that will affect hundreds
of thousands of drivers.
A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority declined to comment on the
options presented to the board, which is expected to vote on the matter
at 9 today. The plan adopted by the board will be aired in public
hearings during the next several weeks.
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