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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hidden taxes

We're starting to get an idea of what a "free lunch" looks like.

Let's face it, Americans are tax-averse. And the heart of the "conservative revolution" that began with Ronald Reagan and is wheezing along on fumes today is the concept that taxes are evil things that inhibit growth.

Heck, cutting taxes to raise government revenue is the heart of supply side economics that is a cornerstone of the Reagan Revolution. The philosophy's mantra is you can have the program and services you want -- and you don't have to pay for them.

It's a philosophy that rang up huge deficits in the 1980s and again in the first years of the new millennium. George Bush has brought it to the extreme: the way America can pay for its war against terrorism is to shop more.

The price for that tax phobia is clear: billions of dollars in red ink in Washington -- and in Boston.

The Globe reports the price tag for the Big Dig isn't really the outrageous $15 billion we thought it was. No, it's $22 billion when you factor in the cost of borrowing to pay for it. Oh yeah, and to pay for the salaries of the painters and secretaries who work in the transportation agencies that are sucking fumes to survive the drain caused by the Big Pig.

And we've learned a dirty little secret too:
Contrary to the popular belief that this was a project heavily subsidized by the federal government, 73 percent of construction costs were paid by Massachusetts drivers and taxpayers. To meet that obligation, the state's annual payments will be nearly as much over the next several years, $600 million or more, as they were in the heaviest construction period.
Let's be blunt: this fiasco is the result of 16 years of Republican control over the governor's office and the transportation agencies that thought the bullying of James Kerasiotes was somehow equal to competence as he ran up costs while spending like a drunken Republican. It was aided and abetted by installing political hacks like Matthew Amorello to run the system.

Democrats are not without dirty hands. They stood by as the cost of "mitigation" soared. They were directly involved in the creating the latest fiasco by agreeing to a bailout plan in 1996 that shifted the burden to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the goal of making toll payers coming from the west bear the burden of a north-south highway system.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't note that they also gave the MBTA a penny of the sales tax then abandoned it to deal with its crushing debt load only by using the farebox.

And they have dirty hands today -- when they quietly sign off on a rescue plan in April, then stand in front of a camera to criticize that plan today. Or fudge about the need for taxes to pay for our crumbling bridges and public transit system.

So we find ourselves looking over a steep cliff, one transportation agency looking at a massive bailout to avoid fiscal ruin, the other unable to consistently deliver basic services.

And with a political structure that still avoids talking about taxes to fix it.

I know I don't like the idea of paying higher gasoline taxes when the Bush economy-induced price per gallon is more than $4. And I certainly don't want to pay more for the bad service and bad attitude that is the MBTA.

But we've been moving those shells around way too long and it's time to pick one.

The reality of course, is things will not get better soon. In fact, it's likely to get worse. The Legislature's is heading out the door in a couple of weeks and won't be around to take decisive action. (OK, maybe that's not such a bad thing!)

The business community is in a snit because they've been asked to pay their fair share of taxes.

And the rest of us, who pay sales and property taxes, subway, bus and train fares and highway and bridge tolls are feeling the pinch of a plummeting stock market eating away our retirement nest egg, rising prices and stagnant wages (when we can keep our jobs).

For many of us, there's a light at the end of the tunnel, a way to lash out and reaffirm the Golden Rule of the Reagan and Bush Revolution: There is a Free Lunch. That light is repealing the Massachusetts income tax.

You think things are grim now? Why in heck does Tim Cahill even want to be governor?

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