Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A modest proposal

Here in Massachusetts, a panel just recommended that we raise our gas tax by 9¢ to pay for infrastructure, keep the Mass. Turnpike Authority around forever, and assign several more roads to them so that tolls can be added if need be.

I have a better idea. Massachusetts gas prices are some of the lowest I've seen around in my travels. And the roads are used by nearly everyone. Our existing toll structure has some serious inequities (people like me who come from the North Shore, for instance, pay a whopping $3 toll, but people who come in from most of the northwest or the entire South Shore pay nothing - and folks who live to the west pay at most about $2). We have a big state agency (the Turnpike Authority) that is filled with redundant employees, we have hundreds of tolltakers, it's just a big mess and in this state, it's even more patronage-laden than most.

So what we do is this. First of all, we raise the gas tax by 20¢. Sounds bad, huh? But with that money, we eliminate all tolls everywhere on the Pike and related roads. Disband the Turnpike Authority and move all debt obligations to the general fund.

The catch is that in enabling the 20¢ increase, that entire sum must be assigned to a separate fund specifically for highway construction and maintenance - and not available to the general fund. And given our track record of the Legislature's obeying the law (how's that 5% income tax rate working out?), I'm not sure they can do it.

Plus it looks like a tax increase, even though it's approximately revenue-neutral. And voters are so stupid they probably wouldn't get it.

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