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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Catch 22?

Whoever thought gasoline would join booze and butts as a subject for sin taxes?

Word that Massachusetts drivers are putting fewer miles on their cars and less gasoline in their tanks -- and fewer dollars in state coffers -- is hardly surprising with fuel now just edging back from $4 a gallon.

Nor is it surprising, if you really think about it, that the amount the state is taking in to try to pay for the ever-growing list of bridge and road construction projects is shrinking. But the reality is clear.

Sin taxes, to belabor the obvious, are paid on "guilty pleasures." There has always been an obvious understanding (and hope) that tacking so many taxes on top of a pack of cigarettes would serve as a motivation to change a bad behavior.

But I seriously doubt anyone thought that gasoline would soar to its current price level and serve as a deterrent to driving. After all, isn't the cliche that Americans love their cars more than their spouses?

But with Massachusetts watching its roads and bridges crumble before our eyes, at the same time we are starting to see a love affair heading toward the rocks. And that only suggests we are heading for one of those classic vicious cycles -- higher prices means fewer miles means less maintenance, which means less driving, which means fewer gasoline purchases which means...

You get the picture. And it's not pretty.

But at least we have the MBTA.

If we can't remake Joseph Heller's classic Catch 22, I can at least see a plot for a Stephen King novel.

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