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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This is your state on fiscal meltdown

Want an idea of what might happen if Congress can't get its act together on a fiscal bailout bill that restores faith in the economy without rewarding those who caused the mess and without punishing those who are its victims?

The early outlines are there in the jockeying between those who rightfully believe the Massachusetts shouldn't stick the burden of the Big Dig on a group that doesn't reap the majority of its benefits versus those who don't want the state to heap the pain on those who drive the state's economic engines.

And looming behind it all are plummeting tax revenues, increased short-term borrowing to pay the bills -- and a proposal to chop another $12 billion out of the state's coffers.

Can you say Perfect Storm?

The chaos caused by an unregulated Wall Street is hitting our pockets in two ways -- through shrinking retirement accounts and rising expenses. Those expenses include the basics, including food and fuel (and just wait until it gets cold!) It also includes what comes out of our paychecks to pay the tabs run up by the state and federal government.

Massachusetts is unlucky enough to have two problems caused by a lack of adult supervision: the other being the Big Dig, the debt shifting to the Turnpike Authority and the MBTA and the refusal to deal with those issues in better times by raising the gasoline tax.

By not biting the bullet then, we are now looking at obscenely higher tolls on one portion of the highway system to pay for rebuilding roads those folks don't drive with regularity.

But if we raise the gas tax to deal with that problem, it will sharply limit options to deal with another looming problem -- a state budget that appears to be too generous right now in paying for programs that people want, like schools, public safety, health care and human services.

And of course we are looking at a proposal on the November ballot to eliminate the state income which helps pay for those "frills."

Part of the cause of the state's higher costs is the Wall Street meltdown has cause jobs to disappear, credit to dry up and borrowing costs to soar to pay the equivalent of credit card bills.

A classic vicious circle is developing, with you and me caught in the whirlpool surrounding the drain. Hang on tight.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

The early outlines are there in the jockeying between those who rightfully believe the Massachusetts shouldn't stick the burden of the Big Dig on a group that doesn't reap the majority of its benefits versus those who don't want the state to heap the pain on those who drive the state's economic engines.

There are no benefits to the Big Dig. That's why it's politically impossible to dump the cost on anyone.

September 27, 2008 5:13 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Hey, I'm trying to be charitable :-) I don't use 93 all that often. But I assume the traffic backups are at least shorter, hence there is some "benefit." Nothing to match the price tage though.

September 27, 2008 8:30 PM  
Blogger Paul Levy said...

Ah, Dan, how quickly we forget that the old Central Artery had to go. The physical structure needed replacing. You could have (theoretically) rebuilt it in place, but it had insufficient capacity to handle the daily traffic thorugh the city. The Sumner and Callahan tunnels also had come to be too small, and shunting off more than a 1/3 of Airport traffic from the south and west to the new Williams Tunnel made a big difference. So there is a huge benefit from the project.

That being said, no one can claim that the manner in which the project was managed was very good. So, we are now all paying a life-long premium.

The Legislature and former governor, deciding that they didn't want taxpayers to cover the capital and maintenance costs, passed a lot of those over to the Turnpike Authority. But then, they constrained the Pike about toll increases. Something eventually had to give.

Now, folks get to squabble about which set of taxpayers get to pay for all of this. Rest assured, though, that the costs are real and will get allocated to one or another group.

The quiet hero here is Turnpike CEO Alan Lebovidge, who simply and professionally presents the truth and options to his Board and the Legislature. He knows that people don't like what he has to say, but he has the spine to say it, knowing that the public interest requires an accurate presentation of the current issues.

September 28, 2008 7:03 AM  
Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

Paul: Never mind the cost. We have considerable evidence that large parts of the Big Dig are structurally unsound. One of these days ...

September 28, 2008 10:02 AM  
Blogger Paul Levy said...

Sorry, but no, that's not quite fair. The recent "stem-to-stern" review that was done shows just the opposite. Unfortunately, this stuff doesn't get covered very well

September 28, 2008 12:36 PM  
Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

Paul: I'm sorry, but there's no credibility surrounding any facet of the Big Dig anymore. It's leaking. It's crumbling. It's a disaster. I know it got a reasonably clean bill of health, but why should I believe it?

I wish you'd been in charge of it.

September 30, 2008 10:44 PM  

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