Most people aren't stupid. They might be complacent, idle, and sometimes ill-informed on government matters, but they're not unintelligent. Political campaigns and legislatures, however, thrive by preying on these assumptions -- that people are simply too busy to pay attention to critical issues. It’s the common, insulting belief of politicians who think government is the only way a citizenry can advance.
So when the Boston Globe editorial board writes that a near doubling of the Massachusetts gas tax is "the least citizens can do for each other in difficult times," ("Gas tax arithmetic," March 11) exactly what species of flock animal have we become this week?
Like Governor Patrick, the Globe has reduced the complex issues of inflated state spending, inefficiency, and unaccountability to a simple two-and-two argument: increase the gas tax, and the roads will get better. Leave it as-is, and watch them fall apart.
But any Massachusetts resident should find it very difficult to correlate a 42-cent state tax with improved roads. Boston is notorious for its public works neglect, especially in lower-income areas like Allston/Brighton, Dorchester, and Roxbury. Morrissey Boulevard is right outside the Globe newsroom, and the section from the JFK subway stop to the stoplight at UMass floods like a lake, even in the lightest of rain storms. The broad section of Commonwealth Avenue running through Boston University was repaved last year, but only after at least five years and a sizable contribution from the school (I know because it became immaculate right after I graduated there).
Then there's the condition of bridges, like last June when Red Line trains were restricted to 10 miles per hour for two months because "so many parts of the bridge were crumbling." Dozens of other roads come to mind - especially the Allston sections of Commonwealth Avenue, and other main arteries - that have been allowed to waste away, further deteriorating the quality of life in those areas. And this is how residents are rewarded after the city took in a $13.9 million surplus in 2006 and another $15.2 million in 2007?
But, according to the Globe, the gas tax will only add $8 a month to the average driver, and it's "far less of a burden than the prospect of $7 tunnel tolls." This, of course, borders on madness in a national recession. Why should either fee be acceptable?
It's rational, of course, to expect everyone to pay their fair share of taxes. But judging by the majority of reader comments on this editorial, citizens are smarter, and they don't think this "gas tax arithmetic" adds up.
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