By D.J. Deeb – May, 2013
After 10 hours of debate on the evening of Monday, April 8, 2013, the Massachusetts State House of Representatives voted 97-55 to increase the current 21-cent-per-gallon state gas tax by 3-cents to 24-cents-per-gallon in 2015 and further indexing it to inflation each year following resulting in further gas tax increases without a vote.
In addition, the House Transportation Package raised the current $2.51 per-pack cigarette tax by an additional $1.00 per pack and included tax increases on cigars and smokeless tobacco. Finally, the proposed legislation changed the formula for calculating business and utilities taxes, which would have amounted to a further tax increase on just about everyone in the Commonwealth. Following the vote, House Speaker Tom DeLeo remarked, “I am proud of today’s vote for a carefully calibrated revenue package that allows us to fund our transportation system in a way that encourages economic growth while minimizing the pain on families and employers.”
Speaker DeLeo, are you serious? The Massachusetts Transit Authority is a joke and we should not pour another dime of taxpayer money into it. New taxes and more taxes are certainly not the answer if we want to encourage economic growth. I think the House Speaker and his minions that voted for this bill, including Representative Campbell, need to take Economics 101.
The House Transportation Bill 3382 is intended to be a watered-down version of Governor Deval Patrick’s more ambitious plan to raise taxes for transportation and education. Governor Patrick, who in my view is one of the worst governor’s in the Commonwealth’s history, proposed a $1.9 billion transportation and education funding plan that would have included most of the House tax increases and raised the state income tax from 5.25% to 6.25%. The Senate has been working on its own proposal and a compromise bill is expected soon. What’s the matter Governor Patrick, your incompetent sales tax increase from 5% to 6.25% a few years ago did not achieve the intended results?
We can be sure that whatever final legislation is agreed to will include tax hikes. In addressing the Governor’s plan, Haverhill Representative Brian Dempsey correctly pointed out that the income tax hike would hurt middle class families. Even Speaker DeLeo acknowledged that the Governor’s plan would devastate the Massachusetts economy, but why do we have to entertain any tax increase? We should be cutting government spending, trimming government programs, reducing taxes, and privatizing the Massachusetts Transit Authority.
Now, what about the Massachusetts Transit Authority? The problem is that Massachusetts transportation agencies are expected to run a nearly $550 million operating deficit by 2018. According to Gregory Sullivan of the Pioneer Institute labor expenses and benefits exceed 70 percent of the costs of the commuter rail system. The fact remains that a February 2011 contract granted employees a 13.7% salary increase over a two-year period from 2011 to 2013.
This far exceeds cost-of-living increases. This is irresponsible management when most people have witnessed their salaries decrease or remain relative since the 2007 recession. There are also numerous other abuses within the MBTA. In his Policy Brief “Runaway Transportation Costs,” Pioneer’s Gregory Sullivan points out that MBTA painters earn over $79,000 per year while the average painters for regular state government make an average of $46,700 annually. In addition, customer service employees for the MBTA are compensated between $54,000 and $61,000 per year while customer service employees for the Massachusetts registry of Motor Vehicles make between $34,000-$45,000 annually. Enough is enough. The MBTA needs to be privatized and/or subcontracted out to private contractors. This will lower costs, create new jobs, and negate the need for higher taxes on citizens of the Commonwealth.
Representative Linda Dean Campbell is certainly not as intelligent as I once thought she was. The House did not even need her vote to pass the transportation bill. With Methuen being a border community to New Hampshire she had the perfect excuse to vote against this legislation. Instead she cow-towed to House Speaker DeLeo and to the Democratic leadership. Our other Methuen representative Diana DiZoglio saw through this and voted the right way as did Dracut Representative Colleen Garry. Both DiZoglio and Garry voted to oppose higher taxes. Kudos to both Rep. DiZoglio and Rep. Garry for voting the right way! Representative Campbell, on the other hand, would like to see more businesses move to New Hampshire. This legislation will certainly encourage Methuen residents as well as other Massachusetts residents to spend their money and make their purchases in New Hampshire. This only serves to hurt local businesses, especially convenience stores of which Methuen has many.
On her website, Rep. Campbell writes, “As you are aware, I will soon need to choose between a transportation proposal put forth by the House and the Senate, or a plan put forward by Governor Patrick.” Really, Representative Campbell? The lesser of two evils is still evil. She continues, “We need to establish sources of Revenue for transportation that will be reliable and more predictable long term.” Finally, to add insult to injury, Rep Campbell writes that the House legislation “encompasses “a very modest increase in the gas tax. It is estimated that the gas tax increase will cost the average driver, at most, an additional $30.00 per year and will not put us at any competitive disadvantage regionally within New England.” Do you really expect to be able to sell us this bogus bill of goods, Representative Campbell?
The legislation that you voted for ties future gas tax increases each year to inflation without any further votes. I have been and will continue to buy my gas in New Hampshire.
House Speaker Tom DeLeo, Representative Linda Dean Campbell, and other pro-tax legislators need to get to the root of the problem by exploring innovative ways of improving the state’s transportation system without raising taxes and without burdening the Commonwealth’s residents with new fees and regulations. It is time to privatize the wholly inefficient and dysfunctional MBTA. The answer is not more government intervention and bailouts, but less. Government should only do those things that the private sector cannot accomplish more efficiently. In my view there are very few things that the private sector cannot do better and more efficiently than the government. This certainly includes the Massachusetts Transportation Authority.
State government has failed us. It is time for State Government to get out of the way and let the private sector work its magic. While we are at it we should roll back Governor Patrick’s sales tax increase and reduce personal income taxes. We can do this by offsetting the revenue loss with the future proceeds generated by casinos. I won’t hold my breath expecting this to happen because our legislators have an unlimited spending appetite. This is why 24-year old Leah Cole, a Ron Paul Republican won the special election in Peabody last month to become the newest member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Her anti-tax message resonated with the voters and we should mobilize to get more Leah Coles elected across the Commonwealth.
We will remember Representative Campbell’s poor decisions and lack of real leadership at the ballot box next November. Rep. Campbell has put partisan Beacon Hill politics ahead of her constituents in Methuen. We need to replace Representative Campbell with a true Representative of the people like Leah Cole. In the meantime I will just continue doing my shopping in New Hampshire as I have done consistently since the sales tax increase in order to boycott that mistake.
D.J. Deeb is a Methuen resident. He served as a member of the Dracut School Committee from 2005-2008 and the Greater Lowell Regional Voc-Tech School Committee from 1997-2009. Deeb is an Adjunct Professor of History/Government at Bunker Hill Community College and an Adjunct Political Science Instructor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He teaches Social Studies full-time at Reading Memorial High School.