A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation

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.

March 2000

The Legacy of Robert Moses lives on in Boston's Big Dig
By Barbara Anderson

Nobody asked, but, here's my advice to Governor Paul Cellucci on how to deal with the Big Dig.

Get out of the State House, go back to Lowell as you did for your State of the State address in January, and stand with the people again.

Share our outrage at being lied to by Big Dig proponents in the '80s and managers in the '90s. Take us back with you to the beginning of the project, when the Democrat Governor, legislators, Senators and Congressmen forced it through despite warnings and concerns from citizen groups.

The politicians were operating under the Law of Moses. No, not the Ten Commandments. The rules for public works projects were popularized by Robert Moses, the powerful New York City Planning Commissioner, who is quoted in Robert Caro's The Power Broker on how to get things done: "If the end doesn't justify the means, what does?" and, "Once you sink that first stake, they'll never make you pull it up."

Caro writes that "If ends justified means, then any means that got it (a particular project) started were justified. Furnishing misleading information about it was justified; so was underestimating its cost."

For example, Moses assured the New York Legislature that the cost of the Ocean Parkway's initial two-mile stretch would be $3,150,000. But he neglected to tell them that the cost of paving it would be extra, until the road had been dredged and graded and they had no choice but to allocate the additional funds. "He was very intolerant of any criticism of anything he wanted to do", the city Comptroller recalled, "and withering with his adjectives anyone who opposed him."

Of whom does that remind us, Governor? But no one fired Robert Moses, either, so I assume Jim Kerasiotis will be with us for awhile. At least tell him that the next 12.2 billion words out of his mouth had better be the whole truth and nothing but the truth or his means will be his end as well.

In fairness to Kerasiotis, he probably saw the misleading information not as a lie, but as a fantasy that no one really believed anyhow. Caro's book won a Pulitzer Prize; his insights are part of the political playbook.used by public works proponents nationwide. The Massachusetts congressional delegation cannot possibly be as shocked by the cost overruns as some of them pretend to be.

Governor Cellucci: do not allow the assumption that Senator Kennedy is doing you a favor by working with you to restore the state's credibility in Washington. The Boston Central Artery is in his commonwealth, too; and while you were just a minority legislator when the project began, he was the Washington politician who led the successful fight to override President Reagan's veto of the project. Let him explain to us why he didn't cooperate with the Republican President's desire to have more information on the true cost and worth of the pork barrel bill that contained the Big Dig.

The Weld/Cellucci Administration should have separated itself from this Dukakis project when it first took office, before that first stake was sunk. It would have been interesting to challenge the Moses theory by telling the whole truth about both the cost and the value of the project, letting the people decide. Maybe this would have meant only the third-harbor tunnel would have been done, as many business leaders recommended at the time. Maybe alternatives would have been sought.

Maybe it's not too late to stand with the people, share their dismay at the fantasy/lies that were the means, and ask them how they want to pay for Massachusetts' share of the now-necessary end: higher registry fees, higher gas taxes, longer borrowing, existing state "rainy day" funds, or my own preference, part of the incoming $8 billion tobacco company settlement.

The Legislature's preference is that voters reject your income tax rate rollback when they find it on the November ballot. Let's hope the voters stand with you and make another choice known to their state representatives, or "the end justifies the means" will continue as the basic operating principle on Beacon Hill.

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