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Gas taxes, editorial boards cater to sheep

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  March 11, 2009 01:01 PM

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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?

UPDATE: Read Globe columnist Joan Vennochi's March 12 article, "Why we need reform before revenue," which agrees with this post and lays out more details of the state's fiscal irresponsibility.

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.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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33 comments so far...
  1. "citizens are smarter, and they don't think this "gas tax arithmetic" adds up."

    And yet, what they think will not matter at all since they will faithfully re-elect the people who brought them tax increase after tax increase every time.

    Welcome to Massachusetts, the incumbent paradise.

    Posted by HBX March 11, 09 02:13 PM
  1. It is even more troubling since the federal government is also considering raising its tax on gasoline by more than 35 cents per gallon at the same time the state wants to raise its tax. Under the guns/butter economic model, people will give up cars and take the T. But the T will continue to go up.

    Those of us lucky enough to have jobs will be taxed into early retirement since there will be no incentive to work anymore.

    Posted by jarndis March 11, 09 03:11 PM
  1. The voters of Massachusetts are sheep! They believe that other representatives or senators are bad, but that theirs is always great. So, the same politicians are always reelected. The politicians know this and so do whatever they please....and
    the voters "sheepishly" go along with what they say and do. Increase taxes...no problem. Give themselves and friends raises and multiple outlandish pensions....that's ok too. Keep reelecting the same politicians who can only think of ways of raising taxes and spending your money, but can NEVER think of ways of
    cutting taxes and spending. Massachusetts Voters...you have only yourselves to blame! The only time a Mass. politician leaves office is when they are under criminal investigation or to collect on huge, multiple pensions.

    Posted by Steve Shepard March 11, 09 03:22 PM
  1. Your argument, in response to the Governor suggesting that drivers should pay for needed road improvements, is the road suck, taxes suck, we're smart. But smart people know that roads cost money, which can come from general revenue or from the people who use the resource. It's a no brainer to have drivers pay for the roads in proportion to their use. Same goes for paying for the costs of greenhouse gas emissions. The most efficient way to do this is through a gas tax.

    Quit your whining and pay your share.

    Posted by Ezra March 11, 09 06:15 PM
  1. And part of that sheep mentality is to embrace ALL aspects of PC thinking and the ever expanding welfare system. Elite liberals seem to think that constantly creating new programs will miraculously cure society's ills when all it does is add bloat and actually destroy the fabric of society. What this state needs to do is DISMANTLE the welfare system and require discipline and accountability from people who are currently part of the Parasite Nation. Blacks and hispanics need to step up to the plate and celebrate learning as THE goal in life instead of drugs and partying. If we do this then there is NO NEED to raise taxes on those who are pulling their weight. REFORM BEFORE REVENUE

    Posted by chris March 12, 09 09:08 AM
  1. From an automotive blog, I'm surprised that "maintenance is cheaper than repair" didn't come up. We are definitely reaping the "benefits" of squandering tax dollars somewhere during the good times when we should have been spending money on roads and bridges, as well as other infrastructure. Let's also not forget that giant sucking sound from the Big Dig that drew away funds like a magnet for anything transportation-related, as well -- including mass transit.

    Also, Deval IS trying to get things together. He HAS laid off state workers and will likely be laying off more in the future to make the budget. He's trying to complete the work MItt started, to make MassPike and MassHighway one agency. He also got rid of the paid details, but now the towns keep them around.

    Let's also not forget that each and every town has it's own department of public works, so instead of being able to negotiate big discounts, they all get different rates. I can pretty much guarantee that when the state buys asphalt and steel, it gets a better price than any local town because it buys so much. Maybe some of the towns could devise ways of sharing equipment, personnel, raw materials. Hmmmm ... smells like a county, which is the way a lot of things get done elsewhere in the US. The same thing could easily apply to pension fund management and health care buys -- but noooo, we must preserve our town autonomy and get taken because a town with 100 workers has zero negotiating power compared with an organization of 10,000.

    I will agree, though, that it's depressing to go to the ballot box and see the same list of candidates every time, with no one opposing them.

    Posted by J March 12, 09 09:53 AM
  1. Post #3 - Steve Shepard - "The voters of Massachusetts are sheep!" - best laugh all week!

    Posted by Bob Dobalina March 12, 09 10:29 AM
  1. Cliff, you're a friggin' moron. The money is needed to pay off DEBT. The state needs to pay off these bills, it is struggling already, that's why the Turnpike Authority's bond rating is teetering on junk status. Saying we shouldn't raise tolls or gas taxes is akin to saying "I have bills to pay, but I'm not getting a job." Also, what do you care, you ride a bike, according to your bio!.

    Posted by Orville Wright March 12, 09 12:48 PM
  1. Orville,

    Thanks for coming back from the dead. The point isn't that the state needs money (it does). It's the question of why it got to this point, and why taxpayers need to be continually responsible for government mishaps and poor management. The city's consistent attitude of neglecting roads into disrepair just isn't likely to improve after higher taxes. As a taxpayer and a bike rider, I'd like to have my roads in good shape, but that will take a culture shift rather than a money fix.

    Posted by Clifford Atiyeh March 12, 09 01:08 PM
  1. The State, which has had a succession of do nothing governors (Romney, Swift, Celluci) who just wanted the resume and then off to something else, is responsible for the Longfellow bridge (and the disrepair). While not defeding Meninos lack of leadership, you the blogger should at least get the facts right.

    The rest of the blog seems to outline the reasons for a gas tax increase, especially one where the governor has highlighted what portion will go where, as Patrick has. The idea that MA drivers shouldn't have to pay to maintain the infrastructure they use is a poor argument, that they don't want to maintain them is absurd.

    Posted by sean March 12, 09 01:30 PM
  1. No to higher gas tax. yes to less state, MBTA, Turnpike, State College workers and pensions.

    Posted by Big Jim March 12, 09 03:58 PM
  1. When gas approached $4 a gallon, we started acting rationally as a community and found alternatives to cars. If we tax gas to raise the price, we get the above benefit and the money goes to help our state instead of Shell oil shareholders.

    Posted by Steve Delbanco March 13, 09 07:53 AM
  1. The gas tax once again shifts debt for a small stretch of the Southeast Expressway to those who have to drive to work (West and Central Mass) to subsidize those who make more and can use the heavily subsidized subway system. If this nonsense passes (and it will) watch how quickly gasoline sales in NH and CT spike up and Coupe comes back with a mileage driven "plan" or another increase in other taxes. The bottom line is that the state tried to hide its big dig theft/disaster by reassigning costs to Authorities with revenue streams (tolls and fares). Now that they've failed at that, they seek to again benefit the wealthy Boston Area at the expense of the rest of the State. If you are thinking we should all pay for the "economic engine" in Boston, think again. If your car had an engine like this you'ld be looking to trade it in today. We don't believe Coupe's reform jargon. We know the money will all go East (seen any toll booths on the Southeast Expressway lately?) never to be seen again Don't get fooled again! By the way, if Jimbo Aloisi thought it was his job, as a public employee, to lie to the public, he oughtta be fired and we should be looking for a refund on what we paid him. Hey Jim: Since you admit you were lying then how long before you tell us you're lying now?

    Posted by demos2 March 13, 09 02:52 PM
  1. Ezra #4 (the "quit whining" guy) - smart people do understand that roads cost money. That's why we already pay federal tax, state tax, sales tax, real estate tax, automobile excise tax in addition to tolls on some roads, bridges and tunnels. Did I forget anything? The question here is why are all that money is not sufficient? And how do states like NH and TX manage without income tax at all? I think people ask reasonable questions and I think some change in voting habits in this state may be in the offing.

    Posted by Alex March 13, 09 09:13 PM
  1. If they're going to raise gas taxes, they should use the same system power plants and such have: energy credits. If a person is using a full electric, a hybrid, a so-called "mild hybrid", they should get a tax credit to use, b/c they're saving road wear, gas and the planet. The guzzlers should be taxed in opposite proportion, aka increased payment according to mpg and or mileage-use.

    Posted by JOHN March 16, 09 04:11 AM
  1. @ Alex:

    You asked: "And how do states like NH and TX manage without income tax at all?"

    Tolls.

    This is from the Texas Tollways site, http://www.texastollways.com/content/why.htm

    The Texas highway system has not kept pace with the needs of a rapidly increasing population. Over the past 25 years in Texas, our population has increased 57 percent and use of our roads has almost doubled. However, state road capacity increased only 8 percent during this time.

    Highways in Texas have traditionally been funded with gas taxes. But state and federal gas taxes no longer generate enough money to keep up with the cost of building new roads and upgrading and maintaining current ones. In fact, the majority of the 38 cents per gallon in taxes that motorists now pay at the pump is used to cover upkeep of our 79,000 miles of state highways. Even a significant hike in the gas tax would not provide enough money to build the new roads we need to solve our worsening traffic problems.
    “We simply can’t continue to rely on the gas tax as our sole source of highway funding. In fact, projections are that the state gas tax would need to be raised 600 percent to meet our transportation needs over the next 25 years. Texans tell us that they want relief from traffic congestion now, not later. Toll roads allow us to build roads sooner.”
    – Phil Russell, P.E., Director, Texas Turnpike Authority Division, TxDOT

    With tolling, we can begin to solve our traffic problems now, without motorists having to pay higher gas taxes. Toll roads and express toll lanes can be built in one-fifth the time it takes for road construction funded with gas taxes. That’s because funds for toll road construction are borrowed up front rather than waiting to collect enough gas tax revenues to complete new road projects. The borrowed money is repaid with tolls.

    Posted by Mike Saunders March 16, 09 11:06 AM
  1. I hope they realize that more taxes makes more financial difficulties for people.

    You may have to end up doing this.

    1. Sell your car
    2 move to where your work place is so you can walk everyday.
    3. Leave the state (Im getting to feel that one fast)

    A return to TAXACHUSETTS. Also,,the people elected ,,do they really know how tough it is out here ????
    .

    Posted by john March 17, 09 08:01 AM
  1. I'd love a higher gas tax. I don't care what they do with the money. I just want drivers paying more to share the road with my bicycle, or ideally, fewer drivers.

    Posted by Hugh March 17, 09 06:36 PM
  1. I would take a higher gas tax if the money (like funding is done for the BBC) is allocated DIRECTLY to Public Transportation infrastructure, not cronyism. You should all ask why a B1 Bomber costs $1 Billion U.S. Why one Air Craft Carrier fleet approaches $1 Trillion U.S. ...and Social Security? Currently it pays most recipients $20,000 or less per year, but "is running bankrupt"? (Divide $20,000 into $1 Billion - did you get 50,000 citizens paid for one year of Social Security? Or did you get one plane that can't be deployed to Iraq, but has to fly 2 Bombs round trip from it's home (say "repair") base in the U.S.? 'cause I got 50,000 citizens...)

    Could it be that the FICA that comes out of your paycheck and mine goes into the General Fund where President Bush can pass tax cuts to Oil Companies ("to find more oil" - isn't that what they do?)

    Posted by Al March 17, 09 11:50 PM
  1. The current price of gasoline in no way accounts for the level of harmful externalities associated with using fossil fuels (increased levels of asthma, global warming, Middle-East unrest, suburban sprawl). An increase in gas tax will make people simply drive less, which is a good thing. If you want things from the government, you have to PAY for them!

    Posted by Mark D. March 23, 09 12:10 PM
  1. Mark (#20) - we ARE paying for the things we get from the government. This is not exactly a tax-free society as it is. The question is why the increase? Why are our taxes we already pay not sufficient to get "things from the government?" And if people drive less as a result of the tax hike then the government will not be achieving its revenue goals, which means another tax hike?

    Posted by Alex March 23, 09 01:09 PM
  1. We laugh at Europe Alex, but in truth the Europeans pay a much higher gas tax and that funds mass transit. There is no question that Europe is smaller and more densely populated, but why do we subsidize Airline travel when Bush made such a big deal about paying so much less to Amtrak? Why indeed, all you need to ask yourself is; "Who profits when mass transit is not subsidized?" As I said above, Big Oil got a huge subsidy in the form of a tax break, yet ExxonMobil alone made $42.5 BILLION in PROFIT (not sales, profit), in just one 3 month period their last fiscal quarter. I doubt we would kill inovation, Germany is extremely innovative, and they also generate a full 20% of their electricity needs from Solar power. Germany, don't forget, is fairly high above the equator, some of it further North than everything in the United States, except Alaska.

    Posted by Anonymous March 25, 09 11:43 PM
  1. Why is it that one rants or raves when the price of a meal goes up, but when the cost of basic services keeping our society functioning increase all hell breaks loose? The same cost increases that effect private business effect the public sector. Of course there is waste in government, but people are kidding themselves if they think there is no waste in the private sector - I mean come on, how many of these comments were written at work, surfing the web, on a company computer. Even if you are on break you were using "company" electricity, and "company" internet access all on their dime, not yours. And shame on you if you are not on break because then you are stealing from your employers' pay roll.

    Posted by golus March 26, 09 05:51 PM
  1. Could it be that the FICA that comes out of your paycheck and mine goes into the General Fund where President Bush can pass tax cuts to Oil Companies ("to find more oil" - isn't that what they do?)
    Posted by Al March 17, 09 11:50 PM

    al the president as of 3/17/09 is obama not bush !

    Posted by johnjr61 March 27, 09 01:21 AM
  1. I would rather pay extra at the pump than have toll booths. Take down all the tool booths. CT did it ages ago becasue of the safety factor. An 18 wheeler plowed into a line of cars at a tool plaza aand killed a family. Not to mention that collecting tolls cost so much. How quick we forget that we were paying over $4 a gallon. It hurt but the world didn't end. And now all this b***ching over $.20?

    Posted by bjcboston March 27, 09 03:01 AM
  1. #14 - NH and TX also have property taxes that are far higher than most income tax states.

    Of the governor's 19c gas tax increase proposal, I believe only 1.5 c is actually slated to fix the roads and bridges.
    Why are we not applying "stimulus" money to debt reduction?
    1. Bid Dig debt (that was badly structured and is costing far more in interest than it should - yet another result of fiscal incompetence) should be retired as fast as possible.
    2. Existing revenue streams currently paying the debt can be re-directed to more productive uses, lowering the need to raise taxes and other revenues in state.
    3. Banks that lent the construction money now have additional funds with which to lend and "stimulate".

    Posted by scrambled_eggs March 31, 09 12:32 PM
  1. Yes to the gas tax. Yes it is tough out here, but it will be tougher in the future if we don't have a rational energy policy and play catch-up on infrastructure repairs that have been neglected for too long. It will always be possible to find examples of waste in government just like I've never seen a company the size of government that doesn't have waste. It's easy to whine, but what's the alternative solution? Fixing every example of waste that every Globe reader can come up with in government will still only be spitting in the wind given the size of our infrastructure needs and the size of government's budget. Living in a rural area, I drive more than most. But that's the breaks. 19cents is fine! The evidence has always been that people will pay additional taxes if they feel the pain is fairly distributed.

    Posted by farmtownliver April 11, 09 11:37 AM
  1. Please balloon the gas tax, I'm happy to see thw whiny gas guzzlers get burned. You've made us all pay for your ignorance, it's the least we can do to make you feel the burn of your decisions.

    Posted by K April 27, 09 01:08 AM
  1. It doesnt matter how much money the state adds in taxes. It will all be mismanaged anyway, and we will end up paying more for less. Perfect example - The T and MBTA/MBCR are as poor as ever with trains and buses being constantly late, and the state will ignore the peoples' concerns, continue to jack up costs (zone 8 train pass went from $202 in '07 to $250 in '08 = 25% increase, parking went from $2 a day in '07 to $4 a day in Nov '09 = 100% increase) despite people's wallet share being lower due to taxes, heating, electric, food, water all increasing. Massachusetts is a JOKE... They get additional infrastructure through taxing us like crazy and completely mismanage it of democratic pet projects and pocket lining.

    Posted by ryan April 29, 09 02:19 PM
  1. #4 Ezra,

    The drivers already pay a gas tax. Thanks for suggesting something that already exists.

    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants May 22, 09 10:01 PM
  1. #23 golus,

    You are justifying wasting tax payers money because you claim there is waste in the private sector. You think it's okay to waste tax payers money because some people in private industry don't use their private investor's money or their own company's owners money wisely?

    The difference between wasting public money is that it is unethical to call for more tax increases all while accepting wasted money. In the private sector, if the company is failing or needs more money and their investors don't see fit, they will pull the plug. Unfortunately, the investors in the public sector (the taxpayers) can't just pull the plug. Technically, we could if we voted out the bureaucrats, but that won't ever happen.

    Open your eyes and see the difference. It's clear as day to most of us.

    Thanks for reading.


    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants May 22, 09 10:05 PM
  1. The state needs to be more fiscally responsible. We are all tightening our belts to survive. The state refuses to. Their answer as we lose our jobs and our savings; "raise taxes". We allow our spending to support entitlements like police details at road construction. It has become an entitlement that no politician wants to take on for fear of reprisals from the people that we pay to protect us. This state should also take a lesson from New Hampshire and not pay our "professional politicians" as much as we do. Maybe there would be some healthy turnover in those ranks and we could finanlly get down to cutting the fat.

    Posted by Rob June 23, 09 08:49 PM
  1. only if the taxes goes back to the cause... not the mass Rob peter to pay paul scenario we are all familier with .. someone should sue the state... i dont believe its legal to take revenues from one business to pay for another.

    Posted by beenhereawhile July 7, 09 04:45 PM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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