SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

August 31, 2013

Column: Taking a look at the tax racket

Joseph F. Doyle
The Salem News

---- — The other day, I put $40 in my gas tank and realized that about $10 of that was going to Gov. Deval Patrick and his Golden Dome crew. So, I thought I’d take a look at this new tax package (fuel, cigarettes and computers) and try to figure out why they did this.

They said they needed the money for statewide transportation. On closer examination, that explanation doesn’t hold water; $100 million seems to be going to fund MBTA pensions, and another $250 million is for converting seven toll stations from manual to electronic. Let’s see; that’s $36 million for each toll station. What type of relief do we get for that daunting sum?

First, no toll taker loses a job. They just switch to phones in offices to field any complaints in regard to the new electronic billing. Here’s how the system works: The state gets access to your credit and/or debit card and/or your checking and/or savings account. If you haven’t yet purchased a transponder, they scan your license plate and tag additional fees onto your bill.

When I heard the word “fee,” it reminded me of the transponder glitch at the Sumner Tunnel a few years back, where close to $1 million was fraudulently sucked out of commuters’ accounts (because those commuters had transponders). Once it was discovered, the state dismissed the incident, saying they weren’t equipped to make refunds.

So, we’re going to refit seven toll booths and the upside for us is ...? Apparently, it’s the opportunity for the state to levy more fees on everyone who drives on Massachusetts roads. First of all, whose idea was this, and who got the contract to alter the toll booths? Under examination, it appears that there is zero benefit for the citizens of Massachusetts. There will be no loss of employment for the toll takers and more financial responsibility for the citizens. The fee philosophy, based upon the established track record of this state, is scary, along with the built-in automatic rise in fuel prices.

The $500 million to repair roads and bridges, in the meantime, has been whittled down to about $150 million. The rest is going to MBTA pensions and the refurbishing of toll booths.

Remember, the new tax package includes fuel, tobacco of any description and the computer industry. In the meantime, we have seen an instant impact of about a 1 percent drop in Massachusetts employment growth.

After the new tax package was passed, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray defended it, saying the transportation issue in Massachusetts was urgent, and this bill was the only solution anybody could come up with. Really?

Perhaps, Gov. Patrick, Speaker DeLeo, and Senate President Murray, you could ponder this:

California has a population of 38 million; Massachusetts has a population of 6.6 million.

The California Senate has 40 members; so does the Massachusetts Senate.

The California Assembly has 80 members; the Massachusetts House has 160!

So, with a statewide population 80 percent smaller than California’s, we could certainly cut our state House of Representatives down to 80 members, saving one half of the amount of all salaries and administrative costs. We would then definitely be saving millions of dollars.

Then, we could save additional millions by eliminating all per diems for government members — so they could feel the impact of their actions the way the rest of us in Massachusetts do. We pay for our own gas and tolls — why should we pay for theirs? Finally, revamping the state pension and compensation systems could save, literally, billions of dollars more.

Any then, maybe we wouldn’t have to computerize seven toll booths for $36 million apiece.

---

Joseph F. Doyle is a freelance writer who lives in Salem.