EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

January 20, 2013

Column: State wants us to play the transportation shell game one more time

Apparently, despite having the fourth highest per capita tax burden and the highest debt in the nation, we still can’t afford our state transportation system. Wouldn’t you think that infrastructure, which is one major reason we have government, would be a priority for spending already available revenues?

And yet, every few years, we hear it again: roads and bridges crumbling, public transportation running on empty, what to do? Handwringing public officials and Big Business leaders get together, offer us a choice of various tax, fee and toll plans, hope we dumb marks will buy promises of better management one more time.

The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has just released the latest “transportation funding plan”, which includes a menu of possible tax hikes and “potential’ reforms. Gov. Deval Patrick watched the public response to his trial balloon as he prepared his Wednesday state of the state address.

The game never changes: We get to argue among ourselves as to which tax or fee proposals we dislike the least and might accept, and prove ourselves fools and enablers once again.

A recent poll showed that 83 percent of those polled don’t want a 15-cent increase in the state gas tax. So the governor is floating a 30-cent increase. Wow, that makes a 15-cent increase look almost reasonable!

On Tuesday morning, the usual list of tax hikers met at the Statehouse to urge an increase in the income tax rate to 5.95 percent. The transportation financing plan floated a possible 5.66 percent rate. Wow, so much better than 5.95 percent!

Never mind that the voters, angry that they were still paying the 1989 “temporary” income tax hike, rolled back the rate to its traditional 5 percent on the 2000 ballot. The Legislature froze it at 5.3 percent in 2002, but we’ve since re-elected most of the legislators who kicked us in the teeth. They eventually allowed a small reduction to 5.25 percent last year, for which we were really, pathetically, grateful!

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