Saturday, February 21, 2009

Yer wallet or yer life...

A mugger walks up to you, pulls a gun and gives you an ultimatum: "Yer wallet or yer life."

Walking away with no wallet, should you thank the mugger for leaving you with your life?

That's the view that folks like Representative David Linsky of Natick would have Mass Pike tollpayers take with regard to Governor Patrick's proposed gas tax hike. Discussing the plan with the MetroWest Daily News, Linsky said, "Considering where we were a few months ago with doubling the Mass. Turnpike tolls, this is a big win for MetroWest."

Excuse me, Mr. Representative, but that's a bunch of baloney. Either this guy is a dupe, or he's complicit in the Governor's toll/tax bait-and-switch. [UPDATE: This might explain some of it. "Their wallets... or your chandeliers."]

Linsky is one of a handful of legislators, mostly from Metrowest, who have made a lot of political hay in recent years on the issue of "toll equity." What that means differs from legislator to legislator, but a common thread is the notion (in this great state of ours, somehow controversial) that it is unfair to toll one subset of commuters to pay for the Big Dig.

Now Rep. Linsky and his ilk would have us believe that having been threatened with a massive toll hike by our Mugger-in-Chief, a 19 cent gas tax hike is a "big win." We're still going to be tolled, mind you. And now we're going to be taxed as well. Some "win." Linsky isn't the only former toll hawk who will this month transform into a tax dove, either. He's being echoed across the region by legislators who know they don't need to worry about a contested election this year (or ever, in many cases).

What hope that exists on this issue, as I've mentioned, flows from the Senate, where leadership remains committed to the notion of "reform first." Note the remarks from Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), who can usually be counted on to support the Governor (again from the MetroWest DN):

Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said that the choice shouldn't be between a gas tax and a toll hike, as MetroWest drivers would still be paying a large amount of statewide debt.

"We need to find a solution that is fair and equitable," Spilka said. "This is a statewide issue, and we need statewide solutions. MetroWest has paid an unfair burden for far too long."

This is doubly encouraging, because it indicates that the Senate is going to stand fast - Spilka would not risk opposing Governor Patrick otherwise.

Meanwhile, Patrick is not being subtle about his stick-up:
"If the Legislature does not approve the gas tax, then a toll increase will have to go into effect," Patrick said. "I will ask the (transportation) secretary to ask for a conditional vote, so if the gas tax goes through, then there will be no toll increase."
"Yer wallet or yer life," in other words. Representative Linsky can't wait to hand over your wallet. "This puts pressure on us to move quickly," he said in response to the Governor's ultimatum.

Faced with a mugger holding a gun, you don't have many options. Faced with a Governor who lately proposes a tax hike a week, you do - in November 2010. Representative Linsky will be up for reelection too, as will every other legislator who shortly will vote to support the Governor's taxpayer mugging.


  1. Why not take down the tolls (per your suggestion during the campaign) and raise the gas tax enough to compensate for removal of the tolls? It would still be an unwelcome tax (the implications of which for our state's economy may be too much to bear), but then at least the financial burden of this situation is shared by a larger group of people (i.e., all those who actually benefit from the Big Dig). The government is, regrettably, in a situation where it is going to have to get revenue from somewhere, but at least this way the burden would be somewhat reduced for those in Metrowest. If they keep the tolls (which the almost certainly will), perhaps they could be persuaded to give Metrowest commuters a small tax deduction to reduce their costs a little. Or maybe they could agree to designate a few days a month where they don't operate the tolls so that commuters save a little money that way. I still like your idea best -- take down the tolls!

  2. Howie Carr today answers your question better - and more colorfully - than I can.
    The upshot is captured in two words: "reform first." A tax hike packaged with promises of vague reforms is same-old, same-old for MA. We know how that story ends: with a tax hike and no reforms.


No spamming, flaming, cursing, or other such nonsense tolerated. Thanks for engaging on those terms - Greg