On Taxes and Transportation in Massachusetts: The Big Picture

Linda Dean Campbell
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell (D) Methuen

By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – June 2013

First I would like to thank Valley Patriot Columnist D. J. Deeb for his label as a moderate Democrat. My colleagues would likely tweak that that to conservative Democrat but nonetheless, I accept.

I also want to thank writer Deeb for paying attention to our State Government policy debates. Coverage has declined in recent years among local newspapers due to budget challenges, but we must remember that most national policy stems from policies first debated and implemented at the state level.

Massachusetts used to be rightly labeled as “Taxachusetts” in the 1970’s. However, in large part due to the leadership of moderates and the presence of a pro-business perspective in the Massachusetts Legislature, we are “Taxachusetts” no longer. In fact, for the past five out of the last six years, Massachusetts and Arizona have shared the top spot nationally for the lowest state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income. Add in sales taxes, excise taxes, and all others, and we are now and have been for quite some time, in the middle of the nation in terms of overall tax burden.

These tax policies, along with substantial cuts in public sector jobs and pension reforms over the past four years, have allowed Massachusetts to remain in the “top three” – a group of states who maintain the top three largest state reserve holdings in the nation. This is a crucially important factor to national bond rating agencies as we compete for favorable rates for capital projects such the building of schools and the repair of roads and bridges. This translates to millions upon millions of tax dollars saved.

We all know that the “Big Dig” and excessive salaries, pensions and healthcare benefits at the MBTA have diverted substantial funds that should have gone to cities and towns to repair and maintain their roads. Legislation has addressed many of the excesses at the MBTA but, more remains to be done.

As a first step, the transportation reform recently passed by the House is a step in the right direction. It requires that the funding that the Legislature allocates for transportation be spent on capital projects, repair of equipment, and so forth – not on salaries and personnel costs or to finance debt. We require that the MBTA make further reforms in order to achieve this. If they fall short, they shall have to raise their fees, which brings free market forces into play.

We direct that a very modest increase in the gas tax, which has not increased since the early 90’s, be allocated to maintaining our roads and bridges. The Legislature adopted the responsible policy by resisting calls from the business community and the Governor to build new public transportation. New public transportation must wait until we have fixed and adequately maintained what infrastructure we have. To not have stepped in to immediately address the structural deficit at the MBTA would have been an abdication of our responsibility, and a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Again, thank you for paying attention.

Linda Dean Campbell
State Representative 15th Essex
Methuen and Haverhill