Gas Tax Hike Halted, but Taxpayers Fund "Elite Soiree"

The good news today is suddenly the Legislature got itself motivated, unhitched the gas tax amendment from the budget bill, and will halt the automatic increase immediately. Will wonders never cease! I do believe we have Rep. Ron Gauch (R-Shrewsbury) and the House Republicans to thank for the incentive they provided.

The better news is, according to the town clerks' statewide database system, our tax rollback petition can currently claim over 20,000 certified signatures as the process continues! Our volunteer drivers are now running around to all the city and town halls across the state, retrieving our petitions as the clerks complete their certification. Again we thank those tireless volunteers for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of the taxpayers.

Of course, it's not over yet by any means -- and won't be until every petition is back in our hands, all the signatures are added up, and they are delivered to the Secretary of State on July 5th. But it's nice having a preliminary count that shows we should be beyond any credible challenge by the forces of darkness, the selfish teachers union and the greedy Gimme Lobby.

That's the good news, but how about the news that bringing the Tall Ships to Boston is costing us taxpayers a couple million bucks -- and now the organizers have their hands out looking for more!

The Boston Herald yesterday reported:

"The state Office of Travel and Tourism has already funneled $1.5 million into Sail Boston and has earmarked another $750,000 in next year's fiscal budget. In addition, the Massachusetts Port Authority is spending more than $1 million on security and other waterfront services.... In addition, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority earlier this month kicked in $100,000 after Sail Boston organizers pleaded for the money, officials said.... Sources said the shortfall is partly due to the lack of support from corporate sponsors, and organizers are hoping state taxpayers foot the rest of the bill.

"The manager of the event, Dusty Rhodes of Conventures Inc.,... later faced criticism after it was revealed that she was offering $100,000 bonuses to ship captains in a bid to lure them to Boston. State officials subsequently prohibited any spending of taxpayer money on the bonuses."

The "lack of support from corporate sponsors" isn't all that surprising when you look at the competition. If you're a registered lobbyist (some CLT staffers must be registered as taxpayer lobbyists) you end up on mailing lists and automatically receive solicitations from every Beacon Hill legislator holding a fund-raising "time." The latest draw goes something like, "Come to my time on the Boston waterfront for a good view of the Tall Ships as they sail by!" My guess is that the corporate lobbyists too are being inundated with invitations, and are putting their money where it'll do them the most good.

I'd name names and locations, but unfortunately I trash them as soon as the mail is opened. Had I only known a few weeks ago that we taxpayers were footing the bill for the attraction ...!

Chip Ford

The Boston Globe
Thursday, June 29, 2000

State Legislative in a hurry to slam brakes
on rising gas taxes

By Michael Crowley
Globe Staff

Prompted by motorist aggravation over rising gasoline prices, and talk of additional gas taxes at a politically sensitive moment, the Legislature will act tomorrow to freeze the state gas tax at 21 cents.

Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham said yesterday that the House and Senate had agreed to detach the gas-tax-freeze amendment from the state budget -- which is still held up in negotiations -- and quickly approve the freeze as a separate piece of legislation.

Apparently, confusion over an erroneous report that legislative inaction had led to a gas tax increase from 21 cents to 22 cents prompted the unusual move. An automatic trigger written into state law tied the tax to rising gas prices. The law sets the gas tax at 21 cents per gallon, but gradually increases the tax if wholesale gasoline prices rise above $1.10.

Potential tax increases are based on price averages over three-month periods, however. The state Department of Revenue will not calculate the next one until Sept. 20.

Revenue commissioner Frederick A. Laskey said yesterday that state officials left the tax untouched this month, after data showed wholesale prices over the last three months averaging 98 cents.

If current prices do not drop over the next three months, the gas tax could have risen by a penny or more. But lawmakers expect to quickly approve the measure today and send it to the governor, who supports it.

House and Senate leaders were working out the final details of the measure last night, but it appeared the freeze would be permanent, not temporary as some lawmakers had proposed.

The Boston Herald
Thursday, June 29, 2000

Cellucci downplays Sail Boston money woes
by Joe Battenfeld and Cosmo Macero Jr.

Gov. Paul Cellucci, whose administration has funneled more than $2 million to Sail Boston 2000, yesterday said he was not troubled by the event's financial problems and lashed out at its critics.

The Herald reported yesterday that the nonprofit organization running the tall ships parade faces at least a half-million dollar deficit just two weeks before it is scheduled to begin.

Cellucci -- while admitting he didn't know the details of the deficit -- said he wasn't worried that taxpayer money was being misused.

"I don't see this as a major problem," a perturbed Cellucci said. "Why don't you focus on the good aspects of something for a change, you know? This is going to be spectacular."

Despite Cellucci's boosterism, sources confirmed yesterday Sail Boston organizers are having trouble paying vendors who are seeking advance payment before the event.

Patrick Moscaritolo, president of Sail Boston 2000, confirmed the organization is looking for a bank loan or advance from the state to make sure the event doesn't go into debt.

Sail Boston officials blame the deficit on an unexpected delay in a $750,000 payment from the state. Lawmakers are likely to include the appropriation in next year's budget, but that won't be approved until later next month, after the July 11-16 parade is over.

State lawmakers approved $1.5 million for Sail Boston last year but organizers say they need another infusion of taxpayer money to cover all the event's expenses.

"It's nothing more than a clerical, accounting situation," said publicist George Regan, whose firm was hired by Sail Boston recently.

But taxpayer advocate Barbara Anderson yesterday said it was absurd that tall ships organizers are asking for more state handouts.

"These people are getting a taxpayer subsidy for this elitist soiree and they want more?" she said.

Cellucci said he expected the parade next month to generate well over the $2 million being spent by the state.

The governor pointed to the success of the 1992 tall ships parade, which he called "probably the most spectacular event we've ever had" in Massachusetts.

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